In some of Wiggin’s recent outputs – our blogs and articles – we have been – on reflection – a little gloomy with pessimism about the direction that the public debate on gambling is taking. Given the fondness of our industry for a sociable time, ‘Dry January’ must have been hard enough anyway. The good news is that we are in a far cheerier mood for this edition of the Wiggin ‘Front Runner’. ICE was a particular high point – the symposium was as busy as ever. The electricity of entrepreneurialism that runs through any gambling industry event is a welcome counterbalance to all the naysayers and the size and energy of ICE cheered us all up – even made the dead-end trips on the Woolwich Arsenal DLR line worthwhile (duffers as we are, we should of course have been on the Beckton line for EXCEL). If ICE was a collective success, our individual hero of the hour is Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General for the State of New Jersey. Mr Grewal is a state official and, given the position that lawyers occupy in the public sector in the US, presumably a person to whom political opportunities are open. Judging by the tone of his correspondence, he also seems to be a person disinclined to back away from a bust-up, including with the behemoth that is the U.S. Department of Justice. In response to the DOJ’s sudden reversal of its 2011 opinion on the Wire Act, Attorney Grewal fired in a ‘Freedom of Information’ request to the DOJ. It pulls no punches. The DOJ, he writes, ‘has no good reason for its sudden reversal; it recognizes that states have been relying on is prior advice, yet it cannot point to any intervening facts or information to justify such an about-face’. Nor is Mr Grewal under any illusion about the reason for this capricious volte-face: ‘…most troublingly, press reports have indicated that pressure to reconsider the 2011 Opinion derived not from intervening facts or law, but from lobbying efforts…[pressure groups] were unable to persuade Congress to amend the Wire Act…a legal analysis prepared by lobbyists…was passed on to a ‘top ranking official in the Justice Department’ by an outside law firm headed by a former Department of Justice official…the ensuing DOJ memo ‘hewed closely to arguments made by [the] lobbyists…’. We commend Mr Grewal not only for speaking truth unto power but, more widely, for daring to think and write of gambling as if it’s any other tax-paying and job-creating digital industry, a heresy last witnessed in England under what we’re now told was the evil right-wing rule of Tony Blair. When James Wolfe took Quebec from the French in the great annus mirabilis of 1759 his detractors told George II that he has mad. ‘Then I wish he’d bite some of my other generals’ replied the monarch. If Mr Grewal wanted to come across the Atlantic and nip some of our politicians, administrators and journalists, then lunch would be on us.
And we’re going to need some Grewal-type spine in the months ahead. No-one – but no-one – in the industry wants to take a penny from a player who is in trouble, to any degree. It’s meant to be fun, competitive and above all, affordable and controlled. So when the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board in the UK writes to the British regulator that ‘Gambling, and the extent of harms associated with it, is a significant public health issue for Great Britain’ they cite the number of ‘moderate risk gamblers in the British population as 0.9% to 1.5%. Put another way, some 98.5% to 99.1% of the population are unaffected. By contrast, in 2014 62% of adults in England were classified as overweight (a body mass index of 25 or above) or obese (BMI more than 30) and predictions are that some 30% of the population could soon be obese – perhaps some 20m people. A BMI above 30 suggests a reduction of 4 years in life expectancy which is something the writer would indubitably see as a ‘significant public health issue’. It is difficult to try to bring some sort of perspective to problem gambling because so many of the individual stories are so genuinely tragic, and calls for ‘perspective’ and sensible, evidence-based reactions get misinterpreted as complacency, or worse, callousness to the genuine suffering of individuals. But let’s take our lead from Mr Grewal and speak and write and think for ourselves, objectively and based on evidence and common-sense. If we can be brave enough to do that then it’ll be the first step to start to deflate the hysteria around an industry which serves the vast, vast majority very well.
This issue of the Wiggin ‘Front Runner’ is an explosive blockbuster. As well as serving our clients we have been blogging, conferencing, editing, publishing and generally philosophising about the industry we work in. We cover a wide variety of the concerns of the day. We deal with the long-anticipated Dutch liberalisation, the shenanigans with the Department of Justice’s volte-face, the developing debate in the UK and fiscal concerns across regulated markets. Don’t go anywhere else, it’s all here! Read the full newsletter here.