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"Goodbye Mr. Chips" -- Attempts to Curb the Spread of Gambling in the UK

Updated on September 20, 2013

Games of Chance

What Regulates the Potentially Harmful Activity of Gambling in England?

Backdrop to UK Gamblers' Law

The history of gambling in the United Kingdom has culminated in the Gambling Act of 2005, but before that were many laws leading up to modern rules that updated and structured the ancient art or science of gaming. In the 1300's all the various forms of gambling were outlawed, which made them all the more attractive. However, but by the Renaissance times English government wasn't so squeamish and began to tax the factories for making playing cards and dice. The kingdom needed money for wars. Now people are concerned with such things as the corruption of children and the protection of naive adults who may fall prey to addictions. Some of the morals and religious prohibitions of ancient history thus persist. It took an Act of Parliament to create the provisions, clauses, and wording of the 2005 Gambling Act so as to allow gambling without the perceived dangers that convinced citizens of the need for strict regulation of some aspects, significantly including the new phenomenon of doing it on the Internet.

The Early Sixties

What happened modernly is that following the 1940's, bingo, casinos, and sports gambling gave birth to the National Lottery, the interesting Postcode Lottery, and everyday Scratchcards and Arcades that became household words, no longer furtive activities of criminals. During World War Two all the men in uniform, and women too, did quite a bit of bingo playing in between life threatening battles. Afterward, the government was more lenient and the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 became official law. There had been a great commercial demand for the game of bingo, so the government set up official bingo halls. However, they restricted activities in the halls only to those who were members. What about "casinos"? They too existed. Regulations provided for gaming machines and other opportunities for gambling. There were strict licensing requirements to be met. But the private membership concept persisted very strongly for licensed casinos as well as the hallowed halls of bingo. Interestingly, morality imposed a rule that there should be a 10-machine limit on any casino having gaming machines. All these rules and regulations were enforced by the Gaming Board of Great Britain.

Setting the Stage for the Modern Casinos

There was a lot of trouble and hardship placed on the Gaming Board. It was tough for them trying to enforce behavior at casinos. As a response, the Gaming Act of 1968 came about, greatly freeing both the casinos and the Board from the tough job of making sure the law was followed in all its intricacies. In a new spirit, the 1968 law let casinos open up to everyone, not just private membership.

The Dawn of the Gambling "Resort"

The Gambling Act of 2005 brought gambling up to the modern age and tried to make the UK a setting for a Las Vegas style gambler's paradise. But once again morality was at work. Attempts to construct giant casinos met with resistance at high levels. The 2005 law said that certain large "super casinos" could be built by cities that would have to bid on the chance to get one authorized. The city of Manchester got lucky and with a permit started to plan a giant casino in the city. However, in 2007 the House of Lords said that instead of the giant structure, they preferred several small casinos around Manchester. Prime Minister Gordon Brown agreed and ratified this decision in 2008. Thus the moral dismay at such an outward show of acceptance of this potentially dangerous pastime was reflected in the social consciousness of the nation's leaders.

The Many Faces of Gambling

Everyone knows that gambling on sports is popular. But it's regulated heavily, and has been all through history. There's lots of money involved, but also potential to harm society, families, and the vulnerable people who are born with addictive genes. Nevertheless, the days when betting used to be done only on back streets in the shadows have passed and given way to legal provisions in national laws like the 1960 Act. Nowadays, bookmakers can operate off-course. Betting shops are legitimate in the UK since May 1, 1961. The Brits say they are out in the open on "high street" now, no less.

Something called the "Tote" controls the horse-race scene. It used to be a monopoly owned by the UK government until 2011. But that year it went private. A bookie corporation called "Betfred" owns it (the "bet" syllable is obvious, and "Fred" is the head bookie and owner of the company).

Pool betting is something like a lottery. People get together, sometimes at work, and put their money into a "pool" to await the results of the race or game. But this too is regulated by the Tote.

The Internet sites now accept gambling bets too for the horses and football. All this is regulated by the government. Even the big National Lottery has been government licensed since 1993. There's a nice side to it, however, because 28% of revenue goes for Good Causes program, a popular general charity. Other lotteries include the Health Lottery, which started in 2011 as a way to support health-oriented charities. There's the fancy Postcode Lottery that combines certain lucky, or unlucky usually, numbers with the gambler's zip code. Then there are always fingernail-happy gamblers playing the Scratchcards. All this stuff is regulated by licensing boards of course for the benefit of government revenue and those in society who want to ensure that some good comes of a vice that was always thought of as evil, until recently.

Arcades come under the auspices of the Gambling Commission. There are adult gaming centers. Also, arcades include the many licensed and unlicensed family entertainment centers.

The Commission carefully regulates online gambling. It's a big pastime ever since 2006. Especially prevalent on the Internet are National Lottery gamblers.

In our modern times of technology, along with the near impossibility of controlling what people do on the Internet, the added ingredient of recessionary times has brought economic hardship even to the powerful governments of advanced nations in the Western World. Thus, the gambling regulations everywhere have loosened up. Governments are making big bucks off licensing and taxing gambling operations and gamblers. Much of the revenue goes for charities and good public works. Thus some good comes from the generally "immoral" habit of gambling.

The Dangerous Thrill of Gambling


Why Do People Gamble in the First Place?

Just about everyone has tried gambling in one form or another. It's like cigarettes or alcohol. Everyone is curious and has to try it because people see others doing it all the time. But there are warning signs that indicate when gambling has become a personal problem. The compulsive gambler enjoys the act of gambling, win or lose. It's the "bet" itself that thrills them. When gambling disrupts someone's personal life, it has to stop. The excitement of gambling, the socializing that takes place in casinos, and the obvious advantage of getting lucky and winning big are all reasons why people the world over will gamble. Hopefully, it won't become a harmful addiction. The UK, like societies everywhere, always has recognized the danger of gambling. This is why it's regulated strictly by laws.

There is something about uncertainty that attracts people. Some mental health practitioners even generalize enough to say that people wouldn't get out of bed in the morning if they didn't know for sure that in the day to come, nothing really is for sure. The mystique of the future itself is why people will gamble. It motivates them to experience the excitement of waiting to find out a crucial event in the immediate future, such as whether the dice will add up to 7 or not.

Thus gambling becomes a sport, but unlike a real sport in which players exercise and exert themselves physically, gambling only exercises the heart muscles as the player awaits with anxiety the outcome of the game. In this sense then it becomes like a drug which, when taken, will increase the heart rate and give an addict a sense of excitement while sitting still and not even exercising. The dangers of this are obvious today just as they were obvious to clergy and moralists in 14th Century England who strictly outlawed all forms of gambling not only as being degenerate but also for their damaging effect on society itself, especially when wage-earners lost their pay before spending it to support their families.

It's estimated that worldwide gambling accounts for income to casinos and governments in many countries in excess of three hundred billion ($300,000,000,000) annually. A total figure for the year 2009 alone was $335 billion. (; "You bet" The Economist. July 8, 2010.) Businesses also have been built on a foundation of gambling in the legitimate sense, such as in the insurance industry where life insurance is a gamble based on the exact time of a person's death.

"Parimutuel betting" is a phrase well known to gamblers. It is, in a sense, the essence of gambling itself because it involves placing "odds" on things occurring in the immediate future such as a coming horse race or football game. A "bookmaker" often is a key person to a gambler. He or she will determine from many factors the chance of a certain horse winning a race. This makes gambling much more sophisticated and interesting to the gambler than a simple game such as flipping a coin to see if heads or tails will come up. In many games of chance the odds can be figured mathematically, but it sports involving parimutuel betting, there are many other factors, often human or equestrian factors, that come into play.

Investors who own portfolios and spread their investments across many different types of stocks, bonds, and funds still are gamblers in a sense. People with a lot of discretionary money like to use investments rather than just keeping the money in the bank. There's no guaranty with investments. Banks are safer, and yet people will invest rather than play it safe. Therefore, the motivation to gamble is spread all over society from the card player to the investor, and onward to the insurance policy underwriter, and forward still to the venture capitalist who starts his or her own business. People like to gamble because people love uncertainty and all its mysterious possibilities. But betting can become like something that draws a moth to a flame.


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