Gambling Watch UK has already been critical of the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) as a gambling industry-led body which disburses funds for gambling research, education and treatment in Britain (see UK News/Launch of the RGT). RGT now proposes a half million pound research programme about category B gambling machines (announcement, 30th November 2012). Or, to be more exact, a research programme about people who play such machines. The Chief Executive of RGT says in the announcement, there is a ‘lack of robust evidence about how people play on these machines and what helps people to stay in control and play responsibly’. This focus on players’ behaviour, and their failure to behave responsibly, is exactly what we would expect from a body which is in the lap of an industry which is on the defensive after two highly critical television programmes (Channel 4 Dispatches on 6th August 2012, and BBC1 Panorama on 5th November) and increasing questioning of the siting of high stake gambling machines (or as the RGT announcement calls them 'gaming machines') in high street betting shops. A proper public health programme of research would also look at the danger to which people are exposed, and the environment in which exposure takes place, not just at the behaviour of the people exposed (the agent, the environment and the host as they would have been called in classic public health medicine dealing with infections).
It is a clever move to announce that the industry will collaborate in such research, provided of course that it does not focus too closely on the addictive nature of the machines themselves, the profits they make at the expense of problem gamblers (see UK News/The Gambling Industry Levy), or the story of how such machines were allowed in betting shops without a proper social and health impact assessment (see UK News/’Hard’ FOBT Gambling). The announcement makes it look as if the industry is itself acting responsibly, unlike of course the people who become casualties of their dangerous products! It also has the effect of disarming criticism, hiding behind the ‘more research is needed’ argument, assuming that high stake machines are here to stay, and kicking into the long grass any consideration of whether high stake, B2, Fixed Odds Betting Machines, which have been the main focus of recent concern, should be banned from high street betting shops as Gambling Watch UK recommends. You’ve got to hand it to the industry; they know what they are doing!