Exactly five years ago, in 2007, the Family Spending Report concluded after interviewing 7000 British families, that they spent an average £3.40 a week on fresh vegetables, £2.80 on fresh fruit, £3.20 on holidays abroad.
But the biggest outlay was on gambling – £3.60 a week. 65% of them owned a computer, 55% with internet connection and only 35% had a dishwasher. And they gambled £187 a year.
At the same time, it was recognised that the gambling spend in Britain was on the increase. Sky Poker TV, enjoyed by celebrity names and numbers of people earning a living playing poker popularised both the game and the instant nature of it that the internet afforded.
Today, poker sites proliferate online, making it by some estimates equal to cinema and bowling as recreational activities. Two thirds of Britons enjoy a gamble, and they are seemingly prepared to bet bigger than many other countries, including Australia, Sweden and the USA.
Reports from 2007, suggested it was over £1200 per head on average, which would make it over £70 billion annually, which was over 7% of GDP. Those are impressive sums by any measure, and spent by women as much as men.
Sports gambling like football and racing, bingo, various national lotteries, pools and scratch cards and the Government’s Premium Bonds (still going strong since first being offered for sale in November 1956) are still a form of betting.
Casino betting, slot machines and a large number who bet on specific things like snow at Christmas or the first black woman Prime Minister by 2021, continue to pull in punters, not to mention little local raffles and games of chance. Even the Stock Exchange, on which much of the UK economy and millions of pension funds depend, is another form of hopeful gambling.
In January 2012, Ladbrokes started talks with owners of Betdaq betting exchange for a technology deal to revamp the bookmaker’s ‘faltering online business’. Somewhat desperate to secure a working presence online instead of being reliant on the high street, Ladbrokes wanted to buy into the pricing and trading skills of a peer-to-peer betting exchange.
This was a move dubbed as ‘if you can’t beat them….’ by some critics, but is indicative of the extent to which technology now pervades the entire gaming industry as it becomes increasingly (and maybe eventually entirely) online.
What About the Addiction?
Care to bet on how long before a counter-lobby springs up saying never mind the jobs that swing on gaming and the innovation and the recreation of choice for many citizens, what about the addiction?
Too late. Gambling addiction is as much a problem as drug, tobacco, alcohol, sex and internet addictions and is already high on the political agenda, particularly how it affects young people. Laws about arcades and under 18s are rightly taken more seriously now as the earlier they start, the worse it is.
Just, where do we need to draw the line? Is watching parents buy a flutter on a horse or the movement of electronic barbells in a pub or online, worse than watching them smoke.drink/swear/show prejudice?
In the meantime one thing the taxpayer can rely on, is that gambling brings in a helpful stream into the public exchequer (about £6 billion, 0.5% of GDP), just as it does from most other things people enjoy doing – drinking, smoking and driving cars.
And this where the biggest change of all will have to come, tax. The industry says it is ready to invest massively, and there is a serious disparity between the ways of taxing land-based gambling and of their online upstart cousins.
In December 2011 the European Parliament published a report arguing that the two wings of the industry are in competition with each other so legislation and tax regimes that favour the internet variety over the land-based online one, will have to be harmonised.
So, in respect of gambling at least, it could be that the web will not have an advantage over forms. And that may be a first. And only?