Gambling Watch UK has been critical of the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) since its launch in April 2012. For a start we think that this way of deciding how gambling research, treatment and prevention should be funded is quite wrong: not only are the funds raised from the gambling industry through a pitifully inadequate voluntary levy, but they are now dispersed by an industry-led body, the RGT, rather than completely independently of the industry as should be the case. This, we felt, was bound to result in bias. This expectation was reinforced when RGT announced that it would be funding a programme of research about gambling machine playing: the way in which the announcement was phrased made it appear that this would mainly focus on irresponsible players rather than on dangerous gambling products themselves (see Gambling Watch UK/UK news/new gambling research...).
A recent statement made by Neil Goulden, Chairman of RGT, has now made the bias inherent in the way RGT is constituted clear beyond all reasonable doubt. Writing on the PoliticsHome website (8th February 2013) in his other capacity as Chairman of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), with no mention of his important public service role as Chair of RGT, he has produced an emotionally worded and biased piece on gambling machines. He writes, 'Apparently you cannot walk down a high street in the UK without being dragged into a bookmaker and forced to put all your money into an electronic gaming machine... At least that is one of the various myths some anti-betting campaigners put around, and appear to be doing so again by re-launching a campaign in the next week or so... the idea that eight million people should have their enjoyment taken away from them just because a couple of professional anti-betting campaigners disapprove of betting is obviously absurd'. This kind of one-sided emotive language is totally inappropriate coming from someone holding such an important office as Chair of RGT. In his capacity as chair of ABB we would expect him to defend the interests of betting companies (the RGT website describes him as Emeritus Chair of Gala Coral) although even then we might hope for more measured language. But this is the person who chairs the body that is responsible for making decisions about the funding of gambling treatment and research in Britain and, most particularly, will be responsible for a programme of research into gambling machines.
His recent statement goes on to make a number of points about the findings of the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey which shows how easily evidence can be distorted to make a point. For example, he draws incorrect or misleading conclusions from the statistics to suggest that there has been a reduction in the number of problem gamblers using machines (incorrect) and that the majority of people who play machines are in work (misleading). Nowhere does he refer specifically to the high-stake Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) which are the kinds of machines which have been causing so much concern and which are the focus of campaigns by the Fairer Gambling Campaign, GRASP, High Streets First and Gambling Watch UK. Instead, he refers generally to 'electronic gaming machines' having been in betting shops for a long time and having proved to be very popular. This looks like a deliberate attempt to confuse the issue.
Gambling Watch UK believes it is wholly inappropriate for the Chair of RGT to have come out and made such a statement which so clearly shows that he stands on one side of the current controversy about the future of high-stakes gambling machines in accessible locations on the high street. Not only does it call into question the objectivity of RGT as a body, but it undermines the credibility of their programme of research into gambling machines. Of course it is not surprising that this has happened. RGT is admittedly an 'industry-led' organisation and the appointment of a very prominent gambling industry spokesman as its Chair is consistent with that. The conflict of interests involved is plain and clear for all to see. It might be expected that the RGT Chair would be very conscious of his delicate position and would bend over backwards to be seen as neutral. But the current Chairman seems to believe that his appointment is no barrier to him continuing to campaign for the interests of the industry he continues to represent.
Gambling Watch UK therefore has no hesitation in calling for him to step down from his position as Chair of the Responsible Gambling Trust in the interests of restoring some credibility to the current British system for funding gambling research, treatment and prevention.