The Guardian view on gambling: a system ripe for exploitation

Without proper regulation, the industry helps the rich launder their money and get richer while those who can least afford to lose lose more

Editorial – Opinion

The fine of £6.2m levied on the bookmakers William Hill today by the Gambling Commission represents a small victory in the constant struggle against the abuses of a system that lends itself to exploitation. In this case, the firm was found to have been astonishingly trusting about where some problem gamblers got their money: although there is meant to be a system to identify and warn off players who cannot control themselves, in one case a player managed to bet more than £147,000 over a period of 18 months, and lost more than two-thirds. William Hill’s response was to send two “automated social responsibility emails”. In a similar case the bookmaker simply asked a man who had staked more than £100,000 whether he was comfortable with it. When he replied that he was, the company decided that it, too, was comfortable with taking his money.

n the days before drink-driving became socially unacceptable, as well as illegal, drunks used to be asked whether they felt all right to drive. The social damage done by problem gambling is comparable to that done by drink-driving. The scandal of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), digital slot machines with which it is possible to bet £100 in 20 seconds, and which are carefully programmed to keep the players in thrall for as long as possible, is under consideration by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The minister is expected to announce a drastically lowered limit on the stakes, to bring them in line with the mechanical fruit machines they superseded. At the same time we’re seeing a concerning growth of gambling inside video games aimed at children, whose play money must be purchased with real currency.

So much for gambling as a means of exploiting the weak. The fine on William Hill also illuminates the ways in which gambling can be used by the strong to avoid the attentions of the law. Several of the cases for which they were fined involved the use of stolen money. Beyond that, there is the widespread use of gambling as a form of money laundering. The use of FOBTs as money-laundering machines has been popular for at least five years with retail drug dealers: even if some of the cash they stake is lost, the rest of their drug earnings now appear as perfectly legitimate gambling winnings which may be invested legally. On a global scale, the use of casinos for tax evasion is widespread for obvious reasons. Even when the money has been acquired by legal means, the house share is likely to be less than a taxman would take, and there is always the chance of winning something as well. Perhaps the ultimate development of this tendency is the small Chinese casino on Saipan, a remote Pacific atoll owned by the US, run by a former associate of Donald Trump, and apparently funded by a Hong Kong dynasty which is deeply involved in the casinos of Macau. Eyebrows have been raised at the fact that VIP guests bet more than $5m at each table every day last year. The DCMS is fortunate that it only has to regulate British gambling.

Source: The Guardian

   

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