Dr Mark Griffiths, a distinguished professor of behavioural addiction at Nottingham Trent University, has shared his opinion on the reasons behind this increase.
Sputnik: Why do you feel that bookmakers have received more complaints over the past few years?
Dr Mark Griffiths: The increase could be for a number of reasons. We as a culture now are getting more used to complaining about various things, and I don’t think the British bookmaking industry have shirked their responsibilities, because obviously they are trying to take these complaints as seriously as they can.
When you put out a helpline number that’s next to a gambling machine, or you put it on the back of a lottery ticket, what you’ll see is an increase in people calling that helpline. By the industry making people more aware of the initiative, what happens then is that more people use that particular avenue.
In this case, bookmakers don’t hide the fact that if you’ve got complaints you can contact them. If we look at the actual numbers, the massive increase - we started with a very low base - I think the first year there was something like one 129 complaints, now five years later, we’ve got over 8,000.
When you look at 8,000 complaints when you’ve got a population of potentially millions of people gambling, it’s still a very small percentage; that’s not in any way to say that the industry don’t have a responsibility, but I think we need to put this into context.
Sputnik: Have bookmakers been shirking their responsibility to the consumer?
Dr Mark Griffiths: There are millions and millions of bets in bookmakers that are placed every year; what you’ve got here is around 8,000 who’ve made complaints, and my understanding is that most of those have to do with duty of care, social responsibility issues, and issues around losses.
Again, these are very important issues; I was one of the people that helped the association of British bookmakers to put forward what they call their code of conduct in relation to what they do in terms of duty of care towards their customers. Obviously one of the things that are in there is that if complaints are made, they’ve got to be investigated and sorted out.
I don’t think any bookmaker is shirking their responsibilities now, because if they are not performing the duties that they are asked of, they will have their operating license taken away from them; the gambling commission are very strict on this.
Sputnik: Should more restrictions on gambling advertisements be put in place?
Dr Mark Griffiths: I’ve been doing research over the past 18 months, particularly looking at things like the content of advertising out there, and we’ve been particularly looking at bookmakers and their sports adverts, most of these surround football, and a lot of the marketing, advertising and rhetoric used is about the gambler being completely in control of what they are doing. When you put all the onus on the gambler, that’s not necessarily sending out the message that at the end of the day, the bookmakers are going to make money, not the gamblers or the punters themselves.
I personally would like to see a restriction of all gambling advertising after nine o'clock; I’m not for prohibiting or banning gambling advertising. For most people this is a leisure activity which they enjoy and have no problems.
I would like to see that the loophole that we have, that you can have gambling advertising around sports matches and football matches, for instance I watched two football matches yesterday with one of my teenage children, and he was bombarded with gambling advertising; he’s lucky, he’s got a father who can tell him about gambling advertising, but most children watching those are not going to be educated by their parents about gambling and marketing adverts that they see at one o’clock, three o’clock and five o’clock in the afternoon, which I was watching yesterday. I would like the loophole relaxed and to see no form of gambling advertising until after the nine pm watershed.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr Mark Griffiths and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.