Gambling - The Balance between Protection and Liberty

There can be a debate between allowing personal freedom to choose and legislating to protect the public.  The term ‘Nanny State’ can be used when some perceive that well-intentioned government or health bodies are perceived to interfere too much with our lives.  There is of course a balance to strike as complete freedom to do absolutely anything would be anarchy, while any government forcing us to do everything they want would be totalitarianism.  It’s an age-old libertarian/authoritarian argument that can manifest itself in different ways as new issues arise.

I tend to lean more towards the public health side of the argument but take the view that what is essentially good advice should not be patronising or condescending.  An area that does concern me is the impact of problem gambling which can not only wreck lives, but for which there are growing calls for it to be treated as a public health issue.  This is especially pertinent to young people who are increasingly being exposed to online gambling.

The Gambling Commission has identified that young people who regularly gamble are significantly more likely to drink alcohol, smoke, and taken illegal drugs compared to young people who don’t.  This is said to be linked and self-reinforcing and negative for mental health.  Young people are exposed in a world of online gaming and social media, that many of us have no real knowledge or understanding of.  I’ve read that up to one in eight 11-16-year olds follow gambling companies on social media.

There is also the influence through sports sponsorship and advertising and we recently saw that betting companies were live-streaming football matches but that you had to place a bet in order to view.  I’m pleased that this is being investigated and I welcome that from April, using credit cards to place bets will be banned.

There is more to do, especially in online gaming, and while personal freedom and choice is important, I believe the pendulum needs to swing a bit further in protecting young people, in particular from excessive exposure and the ‘normalisation’ of regular gambling.


Councillor Duncan Crow, Leader of Crawley Borough Council Conservative Group

22nd January 2020