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Bristol unites international gambling harms experts and people suffering from gambling addiction to highlight urgent need for reform

Press release issued: 11 October 2023

With the explosion of online platforms and advertising, the scourge of gambling is a growing problem affecting people of all ages.

Tomorrow world-leading researchers, campaigners, support bodies, and people with lived experience are set to gather in Bristol to raise awareness of the pressing issues and call for urgent national policy change, as the UK Government continues to consider reforming the Gambling Act.

The Bristol Hub for Gambling Harms Research will host its first-ever annual International Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Thursday 12 October at the M Shed in Bristol.

Former England football player Peter Shilton OBE, who was hooked on gambling for 45 years, will be speaking at the event with his wife Steph, a qualified therapist who helped him overcome the costly addiction. 

Steph said: “Without studies and research none of us can claim to be experts in our subjects as we have no basis. The research is imperative for those foundations in building our knowledge.” 

Peter added: “We are really looking forward to attending and speaking at this event. Steph and myself are proud to be patrons of the grassroot football study and to support the terrific work being undertaken by the University of Bristol for research into gambling harms.”

Other speakers include Lord Foster of Bath, who was an MP for more than 20 years and now chairs Peers for Gambling Reform, the largest cross-party group in the House of Lords and investigative journalist and author Rob Davies, acclaimed for exposing the insidious business practices within the UK’s gambling industry.

Lord Foster of Bath said: “I have met too many people who have experienced gambling harm and families of loved ones who have committed suicide because of it. It’s clear large numbers of people are affected daily, including children.

“The Government’s White Paper includes some important measures to address this issue, including recognition at last that this is a serious public health issue. But there are also many shortcomings. I’m extremely disappointed so very little is being done to limit the way we’re all bombarded with gambling advertising and direct marketing.

“The promotion of gambling products has grown exponentially, with an annual spend of £1.5billion, along with providers using ever more sophisticated means to attract new customers, persuade existing ones to spend more, and keep them hooked. This activity needs much greater scrutiny and regulation.”

More than 150 gambling harms experts covering health, policy, regulations, and marketing, from countries including Germany, Belgium, Ireland and Singapore are attending to explore and progress how to build capacity in gambling harms research. Delegates will consider factors drawing people into harmful gambling, how this deepens socio-economic inequalities and what innovative interventions can help combat these trends.

Professor Agnes Nairn, Co-Director of the Bristol Hub for Gambling Harms Research and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement at the University of Bristol, said: “Experience of gambling harms is a worldwide phenomenon.  However, the cultural context, provision of support and approach to regulation varies dramatically across countries. We are delighted to bring together experts from 13 nations to debate how strong interdisciplinary research can help tackle this growing issue.”

Counsellors from charity Ara (Addiction Recovery for All), which have a base in Bristol, and similar organisations will also be joining the event to raise awareness of the help available, treatment providers, as well as offering peer support. A representative from the Youth Advisory Board of GamCare will share insights on how gambling affects young people and what they want to change.

Last month University of Bristol-led research revealed the extent gambling messages saturate UK media coverage and social media during the opening weekend of the English Premier League football season. The investigation found that football fans are bombarded with 11,000 gambling messages during a single weekend, with only a fifth (20.6%) of these messages found to include gambling harm reduction messages and even fewer (18.7%) that featured age warnings.

Co-lead researcher Dr Raffaello Rossi, Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bristol, who is also part of the event, said: "Self-regulation of the gambling industry is completely failing. The gambling industry's primary goal is profit, not public welfare. So, of course they will not implement measures that actually reduce gambling and their profits. This is why the UK Government have to step up and start protecting people from predatory and excessive gambling marketing.

“Other countries such as Italy, Spain, Poland, Netherlands and Belgium have all started to introduce harsh restrictions and even bans on gambling marketing.  It is shocking that the White Paper has completely ignored the need for stricter gambling marketing curbs – something strongly supported by the public.”

Last year the University of Bristol launched the Bristol Hub for Gambling Harms Research to lead pioneering multidisciplinary research into the wide-reaching effects of gambling harms.

The independent hub, funded by a grant of £4million from GambleAware, facilitates world-leading research to improve understanding of gambling harm as a growing public health issue which needs greater scrutiny and regulation.

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