The hardship created by lost gambling stakes on family budgets is a serious issue. It threatens to get worse unless we take action to restrict the ability of gambling companies to prey on our citizens.
When even a £20 increase in Universal Credit has made a real difference to household budgets, the annual yield of more than £14 billion to the gambling industry must be having an impact in the opposite direction.
And with so many people suffering during the coronavirus crisis, the lure of a life-changing win will only be more tempting. That’s why I’m very concerned the gambling industry has so many ways to promote itself, both through advertising and growing its presence on our high streets.
This summer I supported residents in Enfield trying to stop yet another high street slot machine establishment opening on Green Lanes.
Alongside colleagues from Labour in the Assembly and local MP Bambos Charalambos, I joined a well-attended protest, and the MP is seeking changes to licensing laws so councils have more power to say no.
This is vital. But this summer has also seen a rise in the number of adverts on the London tube network for online gambling, spread betting and questionable ‘quick win’ investments.
These seemed to reach a peak during the European football championship, despite promises in the mayor’s manifesto to restrict them with new policies.
I asked the mayor what was going on in July and he told me that, in just the first quarter of this financial year, 49 campaigns advertising gambling products appeared on the tube. Nearly half the total for the whole year in 2020-21.
He told me he would “bring forward plans to ban harmful gambling advertisements” but – disappointingly – did not promise any action on risky investment products.
I am pleased some action will be taken, but it comes too late for many people, and isn’t the comprehensive review of harmful adverts I want from Transport for London. I will keep pressing for this to protect struggling people in these hard times.
Predatory businesses that play on people’s fears of poverty, and leach money from our recovery should not be given a public platform to target Londoners, and this has to stop before more harm is done.
This article originally appeared in the Ham&High newspaper, September 2021