Let’s be clear: Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling at Nottingham Trent University, is not anti-casinos. But he did play a crucial part in sinking Blackpool’s chances of hosting Britain’s first Las Vegas-style super-casino.
Griffiths told the Casino Advisory Panel – which last week awarded the super-casino licence to Manchester – that the declining seaside town was not best placed as the location to test the social impact of 1,250 slot machines with unlimited jackpots.
„I argued that Blackpool wasn’t typical in terms of demographics ,and that the proposed seafront location was too close to the poorest residential areas of town,“ he says. „We know that some individuals in low-income groups are more vulnerable to problem gambling.“
Griffiths, who is Europe’s only professor of gambling, was hired by the law firm Herbert Smith to work on behalf of an anti-Blackpool bid consortium. He backed the surprise winner as a more suitable location for a pilot, but expects the casino to contribute to a rise in the 300,000 problem gamblers in the UK.
He says: „If you increase opportunity and access to gambling, you increase the number of regular gamblers – but also the number of problem gamblers, for whom gambling has a negative impact on their life and those around them.“
Unlimited-jackpot slot machines – described as the „crack cocaine of gambling“ – give you lots of addictive near-win experiences, says Griffiths.
But it is remote forms of gambling – on the internet, mobile phones and interactive television – that he says pose the greatest dangers, because they attract new types of gamblers, such as women who would not otherwise dream of going to a casino or a betting shop.
He dismisses the US-style ban on internet gambling as unworkable, and is calling instead for a statutory levy of 1% on the £9bn gaming industry’s profits, to be spent on treatment, prevention and research. The current £3m-a-year voluntary allocation equates to only £10 for each problem gambler.
With a 3.5% problem gambling rate among adolescents, compared to just under 1% of adults, Griffiths wants a loophole closed in the Gambling Act 2005 that allows children to gamble on slot machines in arcades and leisure centres. And he says that the NHS urgently needs to put gambling on the same footing as other forms of addiction. „People understand that you can be addicted to alcohol or heroin,“ he says. „But they find it hard to see how someone can have a psychological addiction.“