This overview of gambling harms focused on the City of Glasgow has been produced by The Machine Zone Community Interest Company which is run by Martin Paterson and Adrian Bailey on a voluntary basis. We started the company in 2017 to raise awareness of gambling harms, particulalrly those arising from digital gambling which had a devastating effect on Martin’s life. There is an informal history of the company at History of the Machine Zone
Adrian has lived experience of substance harms and has worked in an arts-based recovery service. Both directors strongly believe in the power of the arts in reaching people and raising awareness. We published two works of fiction and wrote a piece for theatre but our major achievement has been the film One Last Spin which is being used for awareness-raising among frontline staff and organisations, and which we aim to screen at community venues to help raise conversation and awareness among citizens.
The current project, of which this website is a part, focuses upon raising awareness and challenging stigma in Glasgow City.
The material below includes discussion of our experiences of developing from ‘base zero’ to today. Along the way we have become involved with the work of many organisations and individuals dedicated to reducing gambling harms – from Australia to Drumchapel. We have identified some of what’s possible for a tiny organisation like ours while highlighting some of the obstacles and constraints we’ve faced.
As our experience and knowledge has grown, the more we have learned to see how much we don’t know! And how we are involved with a very complex issue. The surfaces shown in the diagram represent growth but they also touch more and more areas. These areas include many things of which we were ignorant, and the many individuals and organisations working on gambling harms and the many different perspectives. We don’t think it’s at all a weakness but a great strength to understand our limits of capacity and potentials. We see ourselves as making a contribution, small streams feeding into a much wider river.
This is important to our wider work and this project in particular. It is said that it is good for one’s reach to extend one’s grasp, to ‘think big’ but it is important to appreciate our limitations. These arise from our own capacity – skills, time, knowledge, experience – and the structural contexts in which we work. These contexts are shared by all agents involved with addressing gambling harms. For instance, key decisions at Westminster will be a major part in any reforms; the weight given by Holyrood will be important to taking gambling harms seriously in Scotland; at city level, policies and actions are important (see for instance work from Manchester).
2017: focus on electronic gambling machines
As we began networking we met with many individuals who had been harmed by electronic gambling machines, particulalrly Fixed Odds Betting Terminls (FOBTs). Four of these devices were permitted in high street bookers, introduced in 2001. Those harmed referred to them as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling because of their power to induce compulsive gambling beyond rational control.
Resulting from lived experience many grassroots organisations were formed and continue to be so today. As well as affected individuals, establishment statutory agencies including local and national government, public health, churches and other religious organisations, doctors and other sectors were also expressing deep concern. On these machines you could bet a stake of £100 every 20 seconds. Roulette is the most popular game. You could lose £300 in a minute’s play.
Since the Machine Zone’s Director Martin Paterson had been severely harmed by playing on these machines we had a strong motivation to join campaigners to see this maximum stake of £100 reduced to £2. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport called for evidence in a consultation to which we reponded(See Machine Zone response to 2017 FOBT consultation). For anybody who is interested in seeing some of the key themes which still operate today we suggest a look at this document.
The campaign was successful but it should be noted that even at the maximum stake of £2 a person can lose a great deal in an hour of compulsive playing. Further, it should be noted that these digital devices share similar design features to ‘online slots’ which represent a serious and growing subject of concern.
The above quotation is from a 2014 report about academic research into gambling harms. Fair Game. The Goldsmiths Report examines the difficulties facing gambling research. We refer to it in our consulation response particularly because it draws attention to the way that
We support a public health approach to reducing gambling harms. This involves working with many agencies across sectors in Glasgow. It also crucially involves the voices of lived experience.
2017 to Today
We have continued to expand networking and have met with many individuals and groups. Twitter has been a key tool in this.
We were sending sspeculative emails to many organisations in Glasgow. One such in 2018 was to COPEScotland based at that time in Drumchapel and its founder and chief executive, Hilda Campbell, replied immediately. She said that a large survey they’d done in 2007 had identified gambling as a major concern for residents (see Changing Habit interim report for stakeholders (2)) At the time, she said, there seemed few options through which to develop attention to what was clearly a major social concern. We refer in some detail in Section 2 of this overview to COPE’s major contributions to reducing gambling harms’. In 2018 when we contacted Hilda COPE had begun partnering with Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm at the Alliance for Health and Social Care Scotland. This programme was, and is, funded as part of the Gambling Commission’s national strategy to address gambling harms.
We were welcomed into the Alliance’s programme, Martin becoming a member of the lived experience panel. Both the Alliance and COPE have provided tremendous support and encouragement to us. Through them also we have been introduced to other organisations and individuals. These include the Scottish Gambling Education Hub run by Fast Forward, the Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector, CHEX, Public Health Scotland, the Glasgow Gambling and Suicide Prevention Partnership and many more. The Alliance were able to provide some of the funding for our film, while GCVS have funded the present project, Glasgow City Gambling Harms.
In 2021 Glasgow City Council and Public Health Scotland staged The Glasgow Gambling Summit. The link will take you to the key presentations for the two days event.
The Machine Zone presented a workshop at the summit entitled The View from Below. Included was a prerecorded video of Martin. It’s rough and ready, amateurish and accompanied by traffic noise from the traffic zooming by Victoria Park. Its form is a reminder that below the important work of more experienced and prominent stakeholders, the lived experience of every single individual harmed by gambling should be the very foundation of everything.
Martin raises a lot of issues. He talks about the film and what it sets out to do. For it to reach its potential we want more people to see it. Part of our Glasgow project involves promoting it. We would like to see it used for frontline workers to raise awareness. And we want to see it shown in community venues for citizens to become engaged, raise conversations and almost certainly be a starting point for the many who need a little encouragement to seek support.
The film has been made available to frontline workers with Citizens Advice Scotland as part of their training around gambling harms, and we think many sectors would benefit from using it similarly. We are about to screen the film in Barlinnie Prison, and are in the process of identifying other communities in Glasgow with whom to share the film.
We’re also producing printed materials such as posters and leaflets for distribution in public venues such as health centres, libraries and the homes of community organisations. In addition, we are researching frontline services with a view to targeting a representative sample drawn from the most disdvantaged areas of Glasgow, and aiming to raise awareness and provide basic ‘quick’ key points, screening advice and support pathways.
Small Fish in a Big Sea
You can see that the two of us are very small players. In recent years many organisations have grown from a small group of lived experience or one central founder. Some of these organisations are very big, run highly professionally with great rafts of experienced professionals, and well supported financially. We have great respect for most of these (and, specifically, are very grateful to those which provided part of the funding for our film). The big organisations have very high profiles and are ‘go to’ sources for mainstream media. We benefit from them in our day to day work, and more so from the feeling of being involved in a large social movement.
We could not have begun our work without support and encouragement from some large Third Sector organisations. Not only have they provided direct general support they have also invited us to join specific projects within their work. Similarly we have enjoyed involvement with such statutory services as Public Health Scotland.
Realistically, and with full awareness of our extremely limited capacity as two voluntary workers, whatever impacts we may achieve are small judged against the wider fieldds of endeavour which involve so many sectors. Unlike most ‘community organisations’ in Glasgow and elsewhere, our ‘community’ is broad and without boundaries. In some ways we try at best to bring what we learn from the wider fields to accessible focus for the very narrow range of sectors and citizens we can hope to reach in raising awareness, challenging stigma and directing towards sources of support.
Ultimately, if modest benefits for a relatively few individuals are achieved we will have succeeded. We are greatly impressed by the way in which large organisations have brought together the voices of lived experience to promote policy changes, encourage each other and provide immediate succour and support. There is also a number of outstanding individuals in Scotland who have reached and helped people through their example and unstinting reaching out to others. As ever, much of the great ‘community work’, in many ways the most important, goes on among families, neighbours and the vigorous social interactions afforded by small community centres.
This is to place at the very heart of efforts to reduce gambling harms unique individuals in their lived experiences and living communities.
People are not fish. People make communities and make the many cities that are Glasgow. Any of us will feel at times to be lost in the torrents of power and furious activities around us. But no person is small. As individuals and communities – even of only two people or of families and neighbours – our work can both contribute to the common wealth and empower us. Our little is enough.
We’ve found that whatever we have achieved is down to meeting individuals, irrespective of any job title they hold. Lots of this has been down to chance. We couldn’t possibly have planned for someone like Amanda Lehmann, for instance, coming to awareness of gambling harms for the first time becoming so motivated as to write and record a song which COPE Scotland went on to accompany with a great music video. All the people in our film are those Martin met – through one chance or another.
Maybe the picture of the tree describes things best. There are roots which involve passion and values, which may work underground but they spread and touch those of other ‘trees’. Then the branches above ground represent network growth.
While a tiny organisation like The Machine Zone does make plans its development is totally down to other people. They – you – are the nourishment for any seeds we and others scatter. Just as somebody suffering the severe pains of gambling harms needs the nourishments of support, compassion and encouragement so do we all. Maye one or two people reading this – by chance – will think about using our film for instance or do something as simple as put up a poster in their community venue. Even if you’re not in a position to do things like this we hope we have seeded some awareness of gambling harms. In the future you never know what will grow.
If you haven’t heard the song and seen the video which goes with it – and even if you have! – click on the image below: