UK Campaigner Visits U.S. To Decry Responsible Gambling As A Ruse

May 2, 2023
In the wake of the UK’s gambling reform white paper, the chairman of Clean Up Gambling came to the United States over the weekend not to praise industry efforts on responsible gambling, but to bury them.


In the wake of the UK’s gambling reform white paper, the chairman of Clean Up Gambling came to the United States over the weekend not to praise industry efforts on responsible gambling, but to bury them.

Matt Zarb-Cousin, who previously served as a spokesman for former Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn and is a prominent campaigner for UK gambling reforms, described industry efforts on responsible gambling as a public relations initiative to avoid dealing with compulsive gambling as a serious public health issue.

Responsible gambling is a form of caveat emptor, which holds the customer accountable instead of the product, Zarb-Cousin told delegates at the Stop Predatory Gambling national conference in Arlington, Virginia.

Specifically, Zarb-Cousin cited the Responsible Gambling Trust in the UK as an organization overly influenced by gambling industry executives on its board of directors.

“The gambling industry was able to control the research agenda [on problem gambling],” Zarb-Cousin said during remarks on Friday (April 28) at the conference held just outside Washington, D.C.

By hiring industry-friendly academics to conduct research on problem gamblers instead of the industry’s products, gambling executives effectively blocked action to increase medical treatment for a disease that continues to grow exponentially in the digital era, Zarb-Cousin alleged.

Zarb-Cousin, 33, elaborated on his remarks during another panel discussion on the second day of the conference.

Gambling industry executives “want to control research so it doesn’t affect policy [on problem gambling] … . They want to control education, so people aren’t educated about what the industry is doing,” he said.

Up to 86 percent of the gambling industry’s profits in Great Britain come from just 5 percent of its customers, according to Zarb-Cousin.

The campaigner was speaking at the Stop Predatory Gambling conference barely 24 hours after publication of the UK government’s white paper on gambling reforms, to include new restrictions on online casino games and affordability checks on higher-spending gamblers.

Stop Predatory Gambling, a non-profit group, is one of the most prominent anti-gambling organizations in the U.S. Among other initiatives, it is currently gathering signatures to petition Congress to ban gambling bonuses and betting sponsorships and restrict advertising until after 10pm at night.

Zarb-Cousin was not alone in his criticism of responsible gambling during the conference.

Natasha Schüll, a professor at New York University and author of the 2012 book on casino games titled "Addiction By Design", said responsible gambling is a form of “dubious messaging” by the industry.

“It’s not that I think people working in the industry are evil or don’t want to help people,” said Schüll who addressed the conference via Zoom.

But, Schüll added, “the whole idea of responsibility has a politics to it, and that politics — that philosophy — is that individuals should regulate themselves … . It helps deflect attention away from the products and practices of the [gambling] industry.”

In the UK, the term “safer gambling” has become more commonly used than responsible gambling.

Addicted gamblers care more about reaching a zone of total concentration on their games, called “the zone,” than their actual winnings, Schüll said.

“The lure of winning fades, and the lure of the zone grows,” she said.

Online gambling operators use the term “time on device” or TOD to describe how they monitor a customer’s activity, Schüll said.

Zarb-Cousin said he was lucky to have survived his own gambling addiction which began when he was 16 and left him feeling suicidal by the time he stopped — with the aid of medication — when he was 20.

The experience, he said, left him “super motivated” to become an activist on gambling and other political issues, leading to his job as Corbyn’s spokesman.

Les Bernal, the national director of Stop Predatory Gambling and the moderator of the conference, said the anti-gambling movement in the United States will be galvanized if a prominent state lawmaker or a member of Congress who “carries water for the gambling industry” is defeated within the next five years.

“That day is coming,” Bernal said.

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