Editorial: A liberal gamble too far

Betting is being driven by the internet and it is easier than ever to lose everything

Related Topics

Self-destructive addiction is one of the markers of the boundaries of liberalism. As a proudly liberal newspaper, The Independent on Sunday recognises that gambling is one of those questions on which individualism should be balanced by collective welfare. This was one of several questions on which Tony Blair's government got the balance wrong. On gambling and 24-hour drinking, ministers failed to see the social costs of the laudable instinct to trust the people and free the market.

For most of those who indulge, betting and alcohol are a source of pleasure. For some, the intensity of the desire to escape poverty and unhappiness, either by winning lots of money or by drink-induced oblivion, is less cheerful, but not a matter of state regulation. For another group of people, however, they are the focus of an addiction that causes misery for others.

In fact, 24-hour drinking was mostly a misnomer and the problems of alcoholism and drink-related violence are reducing, although this government is right to look at minimum pricing to try to reduce them further.

Gambling addiction, on the other hand, is a serious and growing problem in Britain, on which we carry a special report today. Most visibly, television advertising, allowed by the Gambling Act 2005, is everywhere, and betting shops are the only growth sector apart from payday lenders on the high street.

At one end of the gambling business is the National Lottery, fairly harmless but still a regressive tax on the hopes of the poor; at the other are the slot machines known as fixed-odds betting terminals, which blight some of the poorest parts of the country. But now the growth of betting is being driven by the internet.

Online gambling is the dark side of the liberating forces of new technology and the free market. This is pulling a whole new class of vulnerable people into the gravitational field of problem gambling.

We can now see that the "liberalisation" of the Blair government was not given enough thought. Plenty of people warned of the dangers, as our report today recalls, but they were ignored by ministers blithely assuming that the future would take care of itself. They underestimated the risks. But gambling online is easy; it is private, freed of social norms; and on credit cards, which can seem like unreal money.

Thus it is easier than ever to lose everything overnight. And ministers may have been a soft touch for company lobbyists, offering the chance for Labour to appear business-friendly with the rhetoric of trusting the sovereign consumer. They failed to see how the free market could allow cynical operators to exploit the poor and hopeless.

Or perhaps ministers simply thought that they were powerless in the face of technological change that knows no borders.

Gambling can, however, be constrained: betting companies advertising on television have to operate in the UK, and they are more of a problem than offshore companies, which cannot advertise.

Gordon Brown, the son of a Presbyterian minister, reversed his predecessor's decision on super-casinos, but it should be clear that further reversals are needed. The Government must recognise that gambling poses the problem of addiction, more akin to a medical crisis than a theoretical question of free-market economics or of individual liberty.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal  

What is 4Chan? And why does it threaten women like Emma Watson?

Memphis Barker
Chuka Umunna was elected MP for Streatham in 2010  

Could flirty Chuka Umunna be worth a punt for Labour’s top job?

Matthew Norman
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits