Safer Gambling Week aims to promote responsible gambling in Britain through an annual, week-long campaign backed by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC). While most people respond to such efforts and initiatives with positive enthusiasm, the scheme has its naysayers.
Unfortunately, a number of campaigners and reform groups have sought to belittle the initiative and dismiss its achievements, prompting a heated exchange between them and the outgoing Chair of the BGC, Brigid Simmonds.
For those involved, the November 2023 campaign was hailed as an enormous success after generating 500,000 visits to the Safer Gambling website and a massively increased awareness across social media.
How Safer Gambling Week works
By raising awareness and promoting responsible gambling both online and in brick-and-mortar locations, the aim of Safer Gambling Week is to draw attention to the resources available to help any gamblers who may be struggling. Specifically, it draws players’ attention to the relevant helplines and tools available to them, including self-exclusion measures, time limits and deposit limits.
Safer Gambling Week is backed by the UKGC as well as the UK Government, and as its proponents say, the results speak for themselves.
For instance, the 2022 campaign saw the number of accounts making use of the reality check tool rise by 300%. Additionally, some 200,000 players set deposit limits, with the majority of them doing so for the first time. When data from the 2023 campaign is published it will likely reveal ongoing, increased awareness.
Safer Gambling Week's critics
Attacks on the campaign came from various, but perhaps predictable, quarters.
Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) called the campaign a “cynical stunt” that is “emblematic of all that is wrong with the gambling industry in the UK”. CARE is damning in its statement on Safer Gambling Week, which it deems to be “pretending it has a heart”, and proposes that the gambling industry be “treated in the same way as tobacco”.
But there’s a notable absence of statistics in CARE’s official statement, which also calls for a number of new legislative measures that are already in the works.
Equally, Gambling With Lives used the term “cringe campaign” to describe the initiative, attacking it for putting the responsibility, and perhaps blame, on players.
The BGC’s response
Reacting to the criticisms, BGC Chair Brigid Simmonds published a rebuttal, highlighting its successes and claiming that doubters simply harbour a dislike of betting altogether.
Simmonds’ stance suggests that reform groups object broadly to gambling, and that their approach is not geared towards improving it, but rather vilifying it.
In the op-ed she acknowledged that fully understanding the impact and results of the most recent drive can take time, but suggests that “so-called campaigners” are unconcerned with the wellbeing of gamblers who are at risk.
Simmonds called out the contradiction between campaigners demanding that more is done to protect gamblers, whilst criticising an existing scheme which is demonstrably effective.
“They are not interested in genuine attempts to drive up standards – they simply dislike betting and gaming – and by extension, dislike those who enjoy it.”
In a follow-up post on social media, the BGC reiterated that “Safer Gambling Week works [and] attacking it defies logic".
However, just three days later, on 12 January 2024, it was announced that Brigid Simmonds would be stepping down from her post.
Whilst the timing appears unfortunate, it seems unlikely that Simmonds' comments sparked enough controversy to trigger her resignation.
Simmonds was on board from the launch of the BGC in 2019, and the announcement paid tribute to the “massive contribution” she made during her four-and-a-half years in the role.
Simmonds' views are undoubtedly strong, but generally on the mark and it’s certainly true that criticisms of efforts to prevent problem gambling are unhelpful and unfair.
That said, suggesting that doubters are wholly uninterested in the wellbeing of problem gamblers may be a little sweeping, and their concerns that awareness is not the whole battle are valid. However, in the circumstances it's not unreasonable to have expected CARE or Gambling With Lives to offer something in the way of constructive suggestions in addition to their criticisms and snipes.
When considered as part of a broader approach to promoting responsible gambling and preventing harm, Safer Gambling Week seems perfectly viable and reassuringly, Simmonds promised that “Safer Gambling Week will be back”. She also stated that the BGC will continue to raise awareness via the scheme, “because, whatever the detractors say, Safer Gambling Week works”.