Betting can never be 'responsible'. So how can anyone possibly justify gambling lessons in schools?
By Melanie Phillips
The recommendation that children as young as 12 should be taught ‘responsible betting’ in school will strike many people as some kind of bad joke.
GamCare, the support body for gambling addicts, has told a government review of personal, social and health education that pupils should be taught that studying the form of race horses, dogs and sports teams can improve chances of winning a bet.
It also said schoolchildren should learn about fruit machines and how to calculate betting odds.
Irresponsible: Recommendations from GamCare suggests schoolchildren should learn about fruit machines and how to calculate betting odds
Such a recommendation is almost beyond belief. How can betting ever be anything other than irresponsible? And what possible justification can there be for teaching this to children in school?
The Labour Party has welcomed GamCare’s grotesque proposal (of course) on the basis that it would help prepare children for the adult world. Whatever next — teaching children the responsible use of prostitution to help prepare them for the adult world?
Surely any responsible preparation must mean learning there is certain behaviour that is off-limits because it is intrinsically dangerous and harmful. Alas, GamCare’s proposal is not some aberrant rush of blood to the head, but part of a more general pattern.
Some of the most profound coarsening of our culture has come about through a kind of ratchet effect.
First the law is liberalised. Then people get worried about the damage that’s being done as a result.
But then, rather than undoing the liberal attitudes which are causing the problem, people try to pretend this damage can be corrected by picking up the pieces once it has been done.
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We have watched this ratchet effect time and again with sexual behaviour. First the taboo on sex outside marriage was broken, and sex was redefined as having scant more significance than a recreational sport.
Then concerns grew about the ballooning rate of teenage pregnancies.
But instead of guiding children away from precocious sexual activity, sex education focused on how to have sex without getting pregnant. The result: more and more children at ever younger ages are having sex.
Well, what a surprise!
Then we saw it with drug-taking. First, lax enforcement brought the law against drugs into disrepute. Then concerns grew about the increasing number of young people taking drugs.
But instead of enforcing the law, a new policy was introduced of ‘harm reduction’ which told children how to minimise the risks to their own health when taking illegal narcotics. The result: more and more children taking drugs. Well, who’d have thought it?
Now the same thing is being proposed for gambling. Once upon a time, this was viewed as a vice that needed to be discouraged through strict social controls.
Although it was legal, it was disapproved of because of the terrible harm it brought in its wake — poverty, debt, bankruptcy, family breakdown and crime.
The National Lottery made betting a respectable national pastime
So betting shops were not allowed to advertise themselves and were seedy places from which the respectable kept well away.
All this changed in 1994 when the National Lottery was created by the then Conservative government. Suddenly, betting became respectable and a national pastime.
The Labour government went much further and liberalised the law restricting gambling. Within a short space of time, this led to an explosion of gambling addiction.
And so now the ratchet is turning once again, with the recommendation that pupils are taught ‘responsible’ gambling —including identifying ‘some of the more positive aspects of gambling’ as well as the negative points.
But when applied to inherently harmful behaviour such as gambling, such apparent even-handedness is extraordinarily perverse and irresponsible.
There are already an estimated 100,000 problem gamblers under the age of 18, including some 60,000 12 to 15-year-olds — a prevalence rate of 2 per cent, more than twice that for adults.
GamCare’s proposal would cause even more children to start gambling.
And that’s because the key driver behind such socially reckless behaviour is the message that it has ‘positive’ points and thus does not merit automatic disapproval.
GamCare’s chief executive says that one of its core aims is to ensure that gambling ‘remains safe for all’. But gambling is ‘safe’ for no one. The overwhelming likelihood is that at the very least the gambler will lose his or her money on the bet.
Safe for no-one: GamCare's chief executive says that one of its core aims is to ensure that gambling 'remains safe for all'
At best it exploits people’s gullibility, their fantasies that they can beat the odds and win a fortune. At worst, it leads to addiction, debt and misery.
The self-serving nature of this proposal is hardly surprising since GamCare is funded by the gaming industry. But the escalation of problem gambling itself must be laid squarely at the door of the politicians.
When the National Lottery was first introduced by John Major’s government, some of us warned from the start that making gambling respectable in this way would bring many problems in its wake. Such warnings were brushed aside.
What was not foreseen at the time, however, was the way in which successive governments would then cynically use gambling to help kick-start urban regeneration.
So, for example, the huge new Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, East London, contains the biggest casino in Britain, which — apart from Christmas Day — will never close.
This casino boasts 40 roulette and blackjack tables, 92 electronic gaming terminals, a 150-seat poker room, two bars, one of which is next to an enormous screen with betting facilities, and 150 slot machines operating 24 hours a day. From the moment it opened, it has attracted huge numbers of people.
Moreover, Labour’s relaxation of gambling controls has led to an explosion of betting shops on the High Street — many of which have turned themselves into mini-casinos, with fixed-odds betting terminals which act as a magnet for young people.
The worst thing of all is that it’s the areas of high unemployment which tend to have the most fruit machines and gaming arcades. In other words, the gaming industry is unscrupulously targeting the weakness and desperation of the poor, who are all too vulnerable to the siren song that gambling can magically help them escape the vicissitudes of life.
Earlier this year, Harriet Harman accused the bookmakers of ‘predatory profiteering’ in such impoverished areas. Yet it was the Labour government of which she herself was such an ornament which took the brakes off gambling and thus unleashed this blight upon the poor.
Glamour: Labour's relaxation of gambling controls has led to an explosion of betting shops on the High Street
Indeed, in its drive to regenerate city life Labour liberalised not just gambling but alcohol, and also turned a blind eye to the drug-taking that went hand in hand with the all-night clubs that it encouraged to open.
There was a deeply ideological element to all this destructive licensing of disorder — an element which is disturbingly reflected already in personal, social and health education in schools.
For in the areas of sex and drugs, these lessons have long been indoctrinating even very young children into behaving in ways which many parents still believe is deeply wrong.
Rather then helping keep children safe, such lessons have turned schools into factories for social subversion, with children being used to turn what was previously considered wrong or harmful into what is normal and even desirable.
Proposing to teach them ‘responsible gambling’ is but the latest example of the agenda of turning the forbidden into the acceptable — an agenda whose baleful effects are already all around us.
Read Melanie Phillip's RightMinds blog here
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