THE Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Rev Lorna Hood, is absolutely correct to warn of the dangers that arises from the advent of internet gambling – especially given the tidal wave of television advertising pushing the industry’s wares, complete with seductive offers of cash incentives to sign up. The bookie’s shop door no longer shuts at 5:30pm and it is all too easy to run up debt in the wee small hours playing internet poker.
As the Moderator points out, the lure of easy money affects not just those with a gambling addiction. The unemployed and the disabled, faced with benefit cuts, are being seduced into thinking an internet punt is a better option than a payday loan. In fact, the only winners are the bookmakers.
Unfortunately, the gambling genie is out of the bottle here, thanks to the internet.
The Moderator’s sentiment might be right, but the new technology cannot be reversed or wished away. Instead, we need new solutions for the old problem. Tighter regulation is difficult to achieve given British law has no jurisdiction over gambling sites domained elsewhere. The United States has tried for years to make accessing offshore betting sites illegal, but has failed conspicuously, as have several European countries. One alternative would be to curb advertising on UK television, as was done successfully with cigarettes.
Regulation at an EU level might also help. This is being advocated by the European Parliament. Unfortunately, individual member states are blocking collective action in order to protect national gaming monopolies – an absurd position given cross-border online gambling has destroyed such monopolies.
Perhaps it is time for Britain to take a lead in Europe.