Jon Bruford writes that recent coverage of the gambling industry in Great Britain has felt like it is on the hunt for a smoking gun. Do critics care more about being critics than advancing the conversation in regards to gambling lobbying or are they primarily interested in criticizing?
Look at the gambling industry in Great Britain, or, more specifically, gambling lobbying. It has been said that I am a big fan of journalism. Not all of them. Some of it is utter rubbish.
I love the real thing. When someone digs into a story and removes information to change the way we perceive the world, that’s what I like. Good journalism can transform the world. Bad journalism, or journalism that is just laziness, cannot. Not in a positive way.
I’m not sure where this column fits in that idea. Luckily, that’s up to you, and not me.
I am a big fan of The Guardian. I believe their investigative reporting is unmatched in the UK and very few titles even come close to it globally. The newspaper’s approach to gambling stories is, I think, a bit disappointing.
The newspaper is reverting to the playground rules, where business is evil and the customers are the victims of an evil plot to ruin their lives and steal money.
What is the most sly and devious tactic?
Entain used shady tactics on the 21st of May to undermine a recently published white paper. The company is allegedly engaging in a ‘dishonest gambling lobbying’.
The Players’ Panel, an Entain-founded organization that was emailed by The Guardian to its members, stated: “The Government has decided to limit the amount and when you can wager.” This will have a significant impact on your ability to gamble responsibly.
The group then encouraged recipients to write their MP to express their opposition to reforms.
Let’s first address the second sentence in the email, “This will significantly impact your capacity to bet responsibly”. This is a major stretch of the truth. The white paper says nothing about this, but it may depend on how you define a responsible wager.
Let’s now look at the meat here. Entain, in my opinion, has not broken any rules. Lobbying, as a concept, is something that exists. They could have been a little more above board. For example, they could have provided Entain letterheads for people to use when printing letters for their MPs and maybe even some Entain branded ‘GAMBLING is BRILLIANT” postage stamps. But they do not make the rules.
However, they have played by the rules and this is not a problem. Even on the best of days, it’s a non story, despite what some journalists claim.
Coverage of gambling biased
I have to say that I am a big fan of Rob Davies, a fantastic journalist who is a great writer, except when he writes about the gambling industry. We then go back to the old polar debate of one side being good and one side being bad.
I co-host the Gambling Files with Fintan costello and we invited Rob to speak about his book Jackpot: How Gambling Conquered Britain. He was fantastic. He was very smart, funny and knowledgeable.
I was able to jump into an existing conversation Rob had with another person about this story by tweeting him about it. I don’t think he was particularly interested in discussing it. But as I said, players, industry and anyone with an opposing viewpoint had no way of redressing this on the pages. So here we are.
The Guardian is biased when it comes gambling. There’s a lot of bias. The newspaper gives its critics the opportunity to speak, regardless of how loosely they may have interpreted the facts.
Who should then respond for the industry? The Betting and Gaming Council This is exactly the type of conversation that they should have and the level of representation we can expect as an industry.
I’ve written to The Guardian’s Business Editor to express my concern about the lack of balance in his article and to request a reply. I have reproduced here his email. The bit between the speechmarks is what you’re looking for:
Does gambling make you a target for easy attack?
The problem with bias, I think, is pretty simple. As an industry, we’re easy to target. Even those who understand business don’t always understand how igaming works or how mistakes can be made, even if they are stupid.
If we were allowed, we could explain to them. We’re not allowed to explain it, and our industry has its own friendly journalists who don’t seem concerned about dealing with the rest of the national media. Our critics seem more interested in being critics rather than contributing to the discussion.
The majority of journalists are now middle class. Not always, but journalism and publishing in general are more about who can afford the education required to get into the door. In some cases, parents will fund their children while they work as unpaid interns for five years.
It’s unlikely that anyone else will make it into publishing like I did in the past. The Guardian is a prime example of how losing working class voices can lead to damaging bias.
A part of the fabric of the Community
Recently, I had the pleasure of mediating a panel discussion on ethics within the gambling industry with Alex Davies-Jones, the shadow minister for gambling. This was done by The Gaming Boardroom. She was fantastic, but what really stood out was the fact that she is from a town of working class people and knows the importance that local bookies and bingo halls play in the community.
You can be sure that I am not referring to any particular journalist when I make this statement. I doubt that any journalist from the middle class in the national media has ever spent time in a bingo hall or bookie in a typical working-class British town. Or lived in a place where the only way to get a job was to work your tail off just to get a spot on the first floor of the local casino.
Hundreds of people have risen to the top of the industry through hard work and talent.
In the story we started discussing, plenty of politicians have weighed in about this apparently dreadful-but-totally-legal and not-even-slightly-rule-breaking lobbying of Entain’s (if the templates were in fact supplied by them – this remains unconfirmed).
The problem is timing and context. If a reporter calls you from a national paper and asks, “Can I get your opinion on this horrible behaviour of the gambling industry?”, then no politician will say anything else than “Gosh, yes.” What a terrible behavior by the gambling industry.
One client insisted on having their Christmas party despite massive cost-cutting. You name it: several courses at a stately house, free drinks, etc. It would not have been fine-dining, but I’m certain it would have still been nice.
I brought up the problems with it while they were blathering about cost-cutting. They replied, “But Jon the Christmas party is important for people. I replied, no, it’s really not.” It’s all about context.
A downtrodden peon in the office will, of course, say yes if you ask them if they would like a Christmas Party. You can’t get anyone to choose between a Christmas Party and an extra PS200.
Then ask them whether they would rather have a party, or two of their co-workers still working for an entire year. You get the picture. They got what they wanted because no politician would walk away from easy populist points.
A non-story about gambling lobbying
The Guardian’s earlier gambling lobbying report on the UK industry had a similar non-story scope. But this one was at least able to target an MP when Philip Davies visited Mayfair Casino Les Ambassadeurs months before the publication of the white paper.
According to the story, he was lobbying on behalf of the Casino. If this is true, then it’s the cheapest and most efficient lobbying ever. He didn’t receive any money and it wasn’t even a hospitality statement. But somehow, they convinced him to make a change. Top man!
OR… Maybe they had a simple conversation. Perhaps the club sat him down, with some adults, in a small room, for a meal, and explained to them something useful.
He was told how the system worked and what would happen. Then they let him make up his mind.
Les Ambassadeurs is fortunate to have Tracy Damestani on board. She was the former director of the National Casino Forum, and she knows how to talk with an adult. Even a politician.
Facts of Life and Business
It is an everyday occurrence in business and life. These business leaders would not have jobs if they didn’t lobby. I was told that newspapers do not only cover stories about illegal acts. It’s not a new thing for me, as I have been doing it for some time. It helps if a event has occurred.
A good journalism is essential to any democracy. To thrive, it must be balanced regardless of the author’s or editor’s bias. It also needs to have a range of voices and opinions for readers to form their own balance view. The Guardian does not achieve any of these things at the moment.
PS: I am very, very cheap. A steak dinner is all you need to convince me.
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Jon Bruford is a gambling industry veteran with over 17 years of experience. He was previously the managing editor at Casino International, and is currently working as the publishing director for The Gaming Boardroom along with Kate Chambers, and Greg Saint. He has a large dog that has a sensitive tummy and in his spare time he spends learning about stain remover.