Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Gambling and Television Advertising

Often enough on night shift, waiting for my time on the well, one would be watching a bit of television while onboard the Norwegian rigs, after midnight and into the wee small hours of the morning.  During that time, I did notice a lot of adverts for gambling websites.  Some would be in Norwegian but the vast majority would be in English.

Since becoming suddenly unbusy, following the serious downturn in the oil industry, I have been watching rather more television at home.  It is only now that I have become aware of the amount of gambling advertising on UK television.  It is scary when it finally sinks in how much of it is on our screens.

I am not a sportsman.  I enjoy sport on my own terms.  Rather fond of golf and American football, can take the occasional game of cricket, rugby and, a regular watcher of football: once every four years during the World Cup.  Would I put money on the any of the outcomes?  Nope.  The struggle is enough, it is all in the moment for me.  My worst nightmare would be trapped in a room full of sports pundits, endlessly discussing and replaying the finer points of how Team A undermined the offside trap set by Team B, before muffing the finish anyhow.

For some, many in fact, it is the outcome and the buildup towards it.  The involvement, the joy and the desolation made all the sharper by financial interest.  The not knowing, the thrill, the edge and, literally, having a stake in the outcome.  Putting money where one's mouth is.  Takes bravery that.  Takes nerve.  It is all-too-often taken advantage of by the bookmakers.  People know this and when you win, it must feel like David's victory over Goliath.

Unlike real combat though, even when Goliath wins, he lets you get up again and load another stone in the slingshot.  Come on little man.  Come and try again.  Almost had me last time.  Next time might be your time.  Sometimes it is.  Whoever wins, both of you are able to get up again ready for the next time.  The next thrill.  The next big one.

With modern technology however, there is no wait.  One can bet inside games: the next scorer, the next substitution and goodness knows what else.  This is one I am not willing to research: having gambling websites on one's browsing history reduces one's credit rating.  Outside sport, there is not even the chance element.  Pseudo-slot machines and one-arm bandits dominate online sites, doubtless far more sophisticated than the mechanical machines I played while underage in Vegas in 1982.   Those who gamble will know far more than me as to the latest wheeze to part punters from their e-cash.  For the whole setup of modern trade means that cash is long gone from most transactions.   It is certain that if gamblers had to had over hard cash with every click, they would quit on a losing streak far sooner.  The whole process of online gambling just focuses on the thrill: the money doesn't even exist until, well, until it is gone.

It's okay that people gamble: for many it is just a fun way of blowing fifty quid in a evening.  One can do the same for a meal, a show, at the bar, whatever floats the boat.  The amount of advertising on our screens suggest that there is a lot more money in it than that for the companies involved.  The cost of television advertising may be cheaper than before but it is still expensive.  Companies are very smart and they would not pay out for Foxy's costume or Mr Green's suit if it has not paid for itself many times over.

Here is not the place to go into the damage done to either sport at every level, nor the lives derailed and wrecked by excessive gambling.  Frankly, this is my first foray into the subject and, I readily admit that I have a lot to learn.  I am glad however that the super-casinos never made it to the United Kingdom.  I saw their effect in Adelaide when I was there some five years back.  I loved Australia with all my heart.  Fantastic place and I loved the straight-talking people.  The obvious fly in the ointment was the pokies.  "What the hell is a pokie?" I thought to myself.   They were advertised outside every bar in Queensland.  When I made it down to Adelaide though, I did not realise at first that the magnificent three-storey brick building that dominates the centre of town was the old railway station, or so I was told.  Even less did I realise that the whole massive edifice was turned into a massive casino: right in the heart of the city.  For the record, pokies are automated poker machines fitted in pretty much every place that it is legal.

The UK advertising market was deregulated in 2007.  By 2013, there was a 600% increase in the amount of television advertising since then.  I have no idea what the number is now but I suspect it is no less; probably a lot more.

I want to see advertising regulations for gambling reintroduced into the UK.  I am sorry for the advertisers: I realise that a whole industry with people's livelihoods at state.  I am not at all apologetic to the gambling industry though: you know you have been turning a quick buck, again and again and again, at people's expense and you will continue to do so.  The United Kingdom does not have to encourage you to do so.

It is no good the industry saying "Please Gamble Responsibly": the subtext being if you don't, it is not our fault we will take all your money.  What about let's advertise responsibly?   People's lives are more important.

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