One of my favourite model cars in the 1970s was a Lotus JPS. John Player Special. It was black and ended up with three wheels, which Sebastian or Adam will be able to confirm. It was at least three times bigger than your average model. Mario Andretti, an exotic name for England at the time, drove this Formula One car, I think.
John Player sponsored the Sunday 40 over – a – side cricket, Benson and Hedges the four day cricket County Championship and there was the Marlboro McClaren Formula One car. Snooker and golf relied on Big Tobacco money. In the early 70s, there were the first murmurings that cigarettes were bad for your health and discussions took place about restricting cigarette advertising and sponsorship. Until the 70s, cigarettes were seen as completely acceptable, and my mum told of having one in her hand at social functions, without inhaling.
I ask myself if we ever learn, whether societies and government learn.
Any industry facing regulation, be that tobacco, fast food, betting, is a sophisticated, well run machine, a web of companies providing different services, with high skill and knowledge levels. Government, or regulators, comes up against this machine late, with less money, knowledge and experience.
I know how consumer goods companies work through personal work experience, and many good friends are part of the ecosystem.
Case study – Betting and the similarities with tobacco.
Ten or so years ago, British gambling consisted of high street bookmakers like William Hill and Coral, and on-course betting at the races and dogs. There were slot machine arcades, slot machines in pubs and, of course, the Football Pools and Spot The Ball from the seventies.
The betting world has changed out of all recognition. First, there are more betting company brands. Over half the football clubs in the world’s richest league, The English Premier League, are sponsored by betting companies.
Watford are sponsored by Bet138, a Chinese betting company. They advertising contains Chinese and English text.
The bookies offer much more to bet on within each sport and there are more sports too. Betting during a match has become huge. Accas, Accumulators, on different games and countries, as an example. All made simple to use on a smartphone, with very appealing introductory offers, all with rapid debit or credit card payment.
Everything in moderation, say the representatives of the betting industry. When The Fun Stops, Stop!, is on the window of my local Coral’s. We’ve seen that many people don’t know how to stop, and it’s called addiction.
The gambling companies have even created trustworthy brand names for high street and online channels. Here are my favourite examples:
Betfair – it’s fair, you win some, you lose some. It’s just fair.
Betfred – well, me old mate’s called Fred, and he is a likeable sort.
PaddyPower – nobody likes to have as good a time as the Irish, apparently. They’ll also use their Power to look after you.
There are several similarities between getting the average Joe Punter and the average Joe Smoker addicted:
1. The cost of a single cigarette is quite low, as is the minimum of many bets – 50p or a £1.
2. You will only truly have fun watching this event if you have a bet on it. Your mates are betting too and you keep in touch with each other on in-game bets. The betting industry has done a masterful job of creating this culture.
3. Entry promotional offers – The offers are way better than you will ever find in a supermarket for anything. For example, a horse with four legs will win the 4.15 at Chepstow, odds 10 to one.
Many people love to gamble, and the betting companies have done a commendable effort in devising interesting options. They employ doctorate mathematicians, use statistical analysis packages plus some sports knowledge. Gambling is interesting, and I see how it becomes very absorbing.
It’s only a few quid a month, week, day, hour. It can soon become an addiction, and will wreck your life. Big, big problem – note my Trumpian use of English – and so far the government has said that it will reduce the maximum stake on fixed odds on-premise machines from £100 to £2.
On the websites of the major bookies, I found the Government Sensible Gambling Warnings on the fifth page down on my eye gaze tablet, not on the front page.
In 2018, most people don’t smoke, and they want to be in smoke-free places. People can still smoke, but they understand the risks, and it’s expensive in many countries.
Betting feels like smoking in 1975.
Why don’t we learn?
Junk food also needs dealing with now, correction thirty years ago.
The costs of not tackling these problems are huge, for the health service and government benefits.
This can only be solved by the regulators being as well staffed and financed as the industries, and by being involved early.
The European Union did a great job of ending mobile phone roaming charges within its borders. Smart, persistent people, coupled with the weight of public opinion, won the day.
Killjoy? No. I’ve had fun betting at York Races, a night at Sha-Tin, Walthamstow or Kempton is great. Long may it continue. May the young guys still be able to sit outside the Istanbul Meyhane and gamble on their backgammon games. It’s the smartphone apps that are the issue.
‘Daddy, you have to stop now. You’re wasting our money. That’s two bets and you’ve lost them both. £15. Promise me you won’t bet again.’ £10 on Belgium to win the world cup and £5 on Watford to win last season’s Premier League. I promise.