On recent travels I have come across a couple of inspiring campaigns. The first is being run by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation (VRGF) in Australia who recently held their first conference. Although the VRGF is less than two years old it already has a history of mounting interesting campaigns. Their new campaign, ‘Bet Regret’, aims to draw attention to the significance of the common experience of regretting having bet and lost more than one meant to or could afford. If that experience has become more than a very occasional one for someone, then gambling can no longer be thought of as an entertainment experience and it should be taken as an indication that something is wrong. The Chief Executive of the VRGF, introducing the campaign, said that he saw Bet Regret as a message that could take the place of the Responsible Gambling message about which he felt ambivalent – despite it being in the Foundation’s title. The VRGF is an interesting organisation because, although funded by the Victorian Government, and responsible for funding problem gambling treatment, prevention and research – of each of which incidentally there is a great deal more than in the UK – it operates independently of the Government and can therefore take the risk of undertaking campaigns which might not meet with industry approval. Another highlight of their conference was the promotion of a book, Ruin to Recovery, in which a number of people recovering from problem gambling describe their experiences, and a theatrical event based on the book which had been performed at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival and later to parliamentarians and others at Parliament House.
The second campaign is STOP SLOP, started by a group in Milan, Italy. The group is concerned about what they see as the comparatively high rate of problem gambling in Italy, particularly in certain regions of the country (gambling regulation varies from region to region), and especially problems associated with slot machine gambling amongst young people. I met them at a meeting in Brussels organised by an Italian Member of the European Parliament (MEP). The meeting was opened by a Danish MEP who argued that gambling was not like other commercially available products, and should therefore not be exposed to an open market. In accordance with the subsidiarity principle Europe should respect the ways in which individual countries have traditionally provided and regulated gambling. Several members of the STOP SLOP campaign spoke and were supported by a number of Italian and other MEPs. One of the things that came out of this meeting was an interest in forming a European network of those organisations and campaign groups which are genuinely independent of the gambling industry.