Section Two


Quick Overview: some developments in addressing gambling harms in Glasgow City


The short project that this website (and this overview) is part of includes researching and presenting a broad picture of how gambling harms have been identified and addressed in Glasgow over the past 15 years. While we can only offer a very general overview we hope to refine it a little so that a further overview to be published in February 2023 will describe in further detail some pratical initiatives being undertaken in different sectors.

Although fairly brief and general, we don’t think busy frontline workers will have time to give it full attention but we hope that even a quick scan will convey an impression of some contexts and developments in addressing gambling harms.

We link to some important documents especially those produced by Dr Michelle Gillies for the Public Health Scotland Network. Her 2019 paper Preventing and reducing gambling harms in the City of Glasgow: a working paper is, to our knowledge, by far the most useful and detailed overview and replete with references to many other documents each of which are of interest in their own right. It’s a very accessible document and well worth a look, perhaps beginning with a quick scan and keeping for more detailed reading: Preventing-and-Reducing-Gambling-Harms-in-the-City-of-Glasgow-ScotPHN

Another useful and reader-friendly overview os COPE Scotland’s June 2022 booklet as part of their work with the Glasgow Suicide Prevention Partnership: COPE: Gambling Harms_booklet_June_2022

We shall also further refer and link to work done by COPE Scotland. the Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm programme at the Alliance for Health and Social Care Scotland, the Scottish Women’s Convention, the Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector and other third sector initiatives. The Machine Zone’s work, described in Section 3 of this overview, also refers to these organisations especially in relation to the voices of lived experience. We shall refer and link to relevant work from the Gambling Research Group at Glasgow University, and to statutory bodies such as Public Health Scotland, Glasgow City Council and departments therein.




Some Context: Looking Back


Gambling has always existed in human cultures and will continue to do so. Many of us enjoyed the amusement arcades when we were children or played cards in school for pennies. In the UK the harms that gambling caused were recognised along with those caused by alcohol in the nineteenth century when the British Anto-Gambling League was formed in 1890 by F.A. Atkins who said:

Nothing less than the reformation of England as regards the particular vice against which our efforts are aimed… There is humiliation in the thought that the chosen Anglo Saxon race, foremost in the civilisation and government of the world, is first also in the great sin of Gambling.

As well as a disturbing reference to being of ‘the chosen race’, gambling is identified as a sin. Religions recognised it so too and some still do. In a largely secular age today, while ‘sin’ is less spoken of, gambling is seen by some as a moral vice, and harms arising from it are often imputed to moral and character flaws of the gambler. This is stigma, to brand somebody with a mark of shame. This stigma remains widespread and we all to some extent internalise social values. A gambler or those affected today may feel shame and this is a major factor in people’s not seeking help.

These days there are increasing calls to see gambling harms as a public health issue. This moves away from identifying individuals as weak, flawed, pathological, bad towards framing the issue as involving many social factors – including industry practices, laws and rgulation, and many other social determinats of health.

Varieties of ‘pitch and toss’ using coins were extremely popular among industrial workers. The games were illegal and frequently subject to police raids.

Illegal betting on horses was also common, the ‘bookie’ often collecting bets from ‘runners’ who gathered them.

Not until 1961 were betting shops opened on high streets, legalising off-course horse betting. The motivation for this legalisation was regulation and clamping down on crime. The first bookies were made to have opaque windows. They were not allowed televisions on which to watch horse races.


.The clip to the right is from the great 1947 film Brighton Rock. 

A day out at the races was – and remains for many – a great treat. Betting with on-course bookies was part of the pleasure.

Many race meetings were important events in the calendar

In this scene there’s a dark undertow of crime too.

In the UK there have been several reviews of gambling. The 2005 Gambling Act still holds today as we await a long delayed) White Paper which will lead to a new Act based upon the current state of gambling. Campaigners want to see in any new Act some serious attention to the amount of advertising and sports promotion, many campaigners wanting to see these banned completely as tobacco advertising and sponsorship was in recent times. Campaigers also call for affordability checks, and a compulsory 1% levy on gambling profits which would be ring-fenced to fund completely indeendent research, education and treatment. (Currently the industry makes voluntary contributions. All the main support charities depend for much of their funding on these voluntary contributions). Campaigners also call for an expansion of NHS treatment facilities (in Scotland none exist at this time). Also called for is attention to the design of some gambling products which are said to be puposely made to be addictive.

The 2005 Gambling Act stipulates its objectives to be:


  1. preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime,
  2. ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way, and
  3. protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling

The many stakeholder sectors today calling for significant new directives in gambling regulation recognise that since 2005 the digital environment has changed life generally and gambling in particular. They call for a new Gambling Act to also recognise this. Campaigners also draw attention a)  to the firm evidence of crime (prticulalrly money laundering) associated with gambling and the high numbers of people drawn to crime to fund their gambling, b) to the provision by industry of gambling products designed to be addicitve, and the effects of such tatctics as offering free bets, the targetting of people through micromarketing on digital devices, and the effects of saturation advertising and sports sponsorship, and c) enticements to children to play on gambling-like producst such as loot boxes, the clustering of bookmakers in areas of disadvantage and deprovation, and the fact that industry profits are largely derived from those already suffering from compulsive gambling.

2005: Fears of an Explosion of Casinos


The 2005 Act in many ways liberalised gambling practices. Alarm was expressed from many quarters that it would see an expansion of the number of casinos. This did happen to some extent, but the Act could not have anticipated the exponential rise of online gambling whereby most people now have ‘a casino in the pocket’.

Reporting to the Scottish Executive in 2006 Professor Gerda Reith of the Gambling Reasearch Group based at Glasgow University examined research on the social impact of gambling. Her paper has a focus on the possibility of casino expansion but ranges more widely.

Among the paper’s conclusions:

10.1 Understanding of the social impacts of gambling is limited by a shortage ofhigh quality research. The field is complex, and findings are sometimes contradictory. However, some broad conclusions are beginning to emerge.

10.2 Availability of gambling and type of game are features that are strongly associated with problem playing. These features come together in non-casino electronic machines which are associated with the highest rates of problem gambling worldwide.

The second point touches on the casino-type fixed odds betting terminals introduced into bookmakers from 2001, and anticipates the rapid evolution of digital gambling products on ersonal devices. The ‘type of game’ also resonates with attention to current concerns over product design.

Professor Reith recommends:


In the event of increased gambling in Scotland, it is therefore crucial that public authorities adopt a pro-active approach to problem prevention, by ensuring that the public are informed about the potential risks of gambling and by targetingthe appropriate resources to treat individuals who do develop problems with their playing. Ultimately, the steps taken by public authorities could have a significant effect on the eventual social impact of casinos in Scotland.

We see here some continuing key themes –  the central need for proacative intervention by public bodies, awareness raising and education, and expansion of treatment.

The video below shows a fixed odds betting terminal in action. Notice the speed with which the player operates.

Those who have become addicted to the machines may play for hours, losing all sense of time, their world shrinking to a condensed attention to their interactions with the device. In our film One Last Spin, Martin describes a horrendous episode where he lost £1800 and ended up collapsed.

For many, research shows that money is not important. For them, the interaction with the machine offers a type of self-soothing where all worries and time itself slip away. Natasha Dow Schull in her book Addiction by Design refers to this space as ‘the machine zone’.

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs)


These machines began appearing in Glasgow during 2001. They offer a choice of games but roulette is the most popular. They had a mximum single stake of £100 and you could bet every 20 seconds – potentially losing £300 a minute.

Many users became ‘hooked’ on them and they were dubbed ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’.

Both the Scottish government and Glasgow City Council joined campaigners who worked to limit damage caused by these devices by having the maximum stake reduced from £100 to £2. Glasgow City Council’s working paper of 2014 drew attention to the nurgent need for research; it can be read here: GCC FOBT 2014 Legislation was dependent upon Westminster government which launched a public consultation (The Machine Zone’s response is here: Machine Zone response to 2017 FOBT consultation), Despite fierce opposition from some sectors of government, notably the Treasury, the campaign was successful. It should be borne in mind however that for some players who may be attached to digital devices for hours at a time it is still possible to lose a great deal of money. For a person on low income the loss of even £20 can have severe effects on family budgeting.

People can now play similar ‘games’ on their mobile digital devices.

Soundings from the Community: Drumchapel 2007



In 2007 COPE Scotland was involved with a survey among the residents of the Drumchapel area:

DRUMCOG secured funding from Scottish Government Wider Role fund, to explore addressing an issue raised by tenants in the ‘Respect Drumchapel’ event held October 2007. Life Moves; the local healthy living centre, also offered financial support to the initiative. Changing Habits is a partnership of a variety of agencies including; Scottish Families Affected by Drugs, The Volunteer Centre and COPE. Aimed at developing healthier communities, Changing Habits, recruited, trained and supported local people to conduct a piece of community based research. The results informing information and training campaign targeting the addictions identified in the survey to be of greatest prevalence, in addition to drugs and illicit drugs.  A peer support model is being developed which will provide training to the community on issues of addiction and also housing officers, in order that they feel better able to offer advice and signposting to tenants where addiction is an issue. The target group are those affected by others addiction. A series of focus groups were conducted by the volunteers this qualitative data informed the development of the quantitative survey.

One of the purposes of the survey was to discover which addictions besides alcohol and other drugs were of greatest concern to residents. 806 (12% of the traget population) responses were analysed. Gambling was identified as the major concern after alcohol and other drugs. This is a very significant survey because it is from the ground, from the voices of community residents. Currently there have been many awareness-raising campaigns about gambling harms but this survey precedes them.



 The full interim report is here: Changing Habit interim report for stakeholders

2014 Onwards: Awareness of Gambling Harms Grows


Awareness of and concerns about gambling harms are far from recent. The writer Dostoevsky’s ninteenth century novel The Gambler is still worth a read. Dostoevsky was himself a compulsive gambler. Many novels set in working class culture feature gambling harms from the nineteenth century onwards. Most of us who grow up as working class in the sixties will have witnessed the tensions and arguments that arose after betting shops opened in 1961. Religious, medical and academic materials appear over the past two centuries. In more recent times we referred above to Professor Gerda Reith’s report to the Scottish Executive in 2006.

Choosing 2014 is arbitrary. Kelly Field (who tells her story in our film) began gambling in 2010 but sought help in 2014 and began the road to recovery. He story inspired the 2018 ITV drama Cleaning Up starring Sheridan Smith which Kelly helped with in its development. Other television dramas have brought increased public awareness of gambling harms such as Jimmy McGovern’s Broken in 2017.

With growing attention to fixed odds betting terminals (see above), print media turned more and more to publishing stories of devastation caused to individuals, and many newspapers adopted editorials calling for tough action from government. These are at local, regional and national level, and most prominent has been the Daily Mail which has campaigned against gambling industry tactics.

Following a Westminster Home Office Commission BeGambleAware was founded in 2002 and remains the principal financial supporter of gambling support charities. A good overview of their work and details of their 2021-2026 strategy are here: GambleAware_Organisational_Strategy_2021-26  Until recently it supported NHS treatment services, It is an independent charity but funded mainly by a voluntary contributions from  gambling companies and to a lesser extent by donations from elsewhere. It is a major theme among many sectors campaigning for gambling reform that such voluntary contributions should be replaced by a 1% levy which would be ring-fenced to fund independent research, education and treatment. Be that as it may, it remains the case that for people in Glasgow a primary source of initial support is via GamCare, funded by the charity.

As a case in point, The Scottish educational charity Fast Forward which aims to support young people with health development, largely using arts-based work such as theatre and with full participation of young people in design, began in 2014 to address gambling harms with The Youth Problem Gambling Initiative (YPGI) then received funding from GambleAware in 2015. In common with most enlightened practitioners, reference to ‘problem gambling’ has been dropped. The project has developed considerably and achieved rightfully awarded respect and uptake by youth services and within formal education. We recommend their site and that anybody involved in youth work of any kind up to the age of 25 should join the network.

However, the issue of industry funding will not lie down. At the Network’s conference in November 2022 keynote speaker Ronnie Cowan MP Inverclyde while lavishing great praise on the work being done by the Network and its value, was insistent that such work should be divested from industry funding. Our own insight is that SGEN, and indeed BeGambleAware, would greatly appreciate funding from a consistent and fully independent source. In reality, people need all the education and support they can get from whatever source. We fully support SGEN’s work and are particularly attracted to its carefully thought out interactive educational activities, its acting as a network to bring practioners together, its regular events for provide learning and information about key issues pertaining to gambling harms, its several toolkits, and its training programmes for teachers and youth workers.

For ourselves, by the way, while supporting good quality current provisions howsoever funded, we do advocate for the statutory levy and a significant curtailment in several industry pratcices such as product design, advertising and sports sponsorship. We believe that while education and treatment or support are vital, attention to ‘upstream’ determiants of gambling harms must be emphasised as a key route to reducing them. This, we believe, reflects a public health approach and is supported by many sectors.


Public Health Scotland

2014 to Today


We began this section recommending the report by Dr Michelle Gillies which gives a great overview of gambling harms from a Public Health perspective which is very relevant to Glasgow in its Scottish context.

Essentially, a population-focused health intervention is one which seeks to improve health and mitigate harms by going beyong focus on individuals as the locus of ‘pathology’. Many health harms are seen as social rather than individual. We know, for instance, that people living in the most deproved areas of Glasgow have much reduced life expectancy and years of good health. We also know that in these areas there is the highest proportion of harms from gambling and alcohol. We know that outlets selling gambling and alcohol products cluster in these areas. Thus one aspect of population health focuses on ‘commercial determinants’.

The 2014 report Gambling Related Harm: A review of the scope for population health intervention (ScotPHN_Gambling_Related_Harm) is an example of this approach. A handy set of links to other relevant reports from that date onwards appear here on this page which takes us up to papers from Dr Gillies in 2022. That page indicates some of the work being done to develop a whole-system approach, a whole-nation approach, and thereby a whole-city approach. Most readers here will benefit less from details than a quick insight into multi-agency working:


(T)he Gambling Commission has funded a three year pathway project which will support the delivery of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms in Scotland.  Based in the City of Glasgow, the project will co-create, implement and evaluate a local action plan to tackle gambling harms. A participatory whole system approach will be adopted, bringing together local communities and a diverse range of stakeholders to develop a shared understanding of the problem and identify and prioritise collaborative actions on the system that will have the greatest potential impact. Sharing and spreading ideas, practice, experience and evidence will inform and support practice and policy.  ScotPHN will use the learning from this project to inform national approach.

Michelle Gillies is leading the project.  An advisory group, the Glasgow Gambling Harms Group, has been formed which includes members from Glasgow City Council, IJB, CPP, HSCP, the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH),  the ScotPHN, the Health & Social Care Alliance and the University of Glasgow.   Additional working groups will be formed to undertake work throughout the course of the project.  A working paper, ‘Preventing and reducing gambling harms in the City of Glasgow’ (June 2019) outlines some of the issues the project is seeking to address.

Most readers here will be most closely connected with HSCP (Health and Social Care Partnership), for instance their work on gambling and suicide

(The Machine Zone CIC for instance as a small community organisation screened the film at an event co-ordinated by the Glasgow Suicide Prevention Partnership at the headquarters of the Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector, another organisation most relevant to frontline workers, and one which has its own officer with responsibility for overseeing gambling harms).

Another organisation that frontline workers will be familiar with is the Alliance for Health and Social Care Scotland and we shall discuss their programme Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm and the Machine Zone’s involvement below.

Community organisations are also encouraged to become involved with some projects from Public Health Scotland, the voices of lived experience seen as important stakeholders.



The National Strategy to reduce Gambling Harms


The three years programme overseen by the Gambling commission ran from April 2019 to April 2022. Inevitably, with Covid delays were encountered so much work arising from the strategy is continuing in development. Many ‘stakeholders’ have been involved, including the Strategy Implementation Group for Scotland

Membership of the group and minutes from meetings are at the link. Largely congruent with the group’s work has been work to develop a whole-city, multi-agency effort to address gambling harms in Glasgow. One element of this was to bring agencies together at the Glasgow Gambling Summit in 2021. You can see information and key presentations at the link. We mention it in Part 3 of this overview since The Machine Zone presented a workshop at the summit.

Membershipf of the Strategy Implementation Group include Public Health Scotland and the Alliance for Health and Social Care Scotland. We have highlighted the work of the public health sector and will turn to the Alliance in a moment.

Before that, in way of context and suggesting potential for Glasgow, we mention the work being done in Greater Manchester where active multi-agency work has implemented practical measures to address gambling harms. See for instance their Odds Are: They Win campaign. Part of Greater Manchester’s work is emphasis on the voices of lived experience via GaMHive.

As part of the National Strategy the Alliance for Health and Social Care inititiated the project Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm which has the voices of lived experience as a core element.

Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm


The Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm programme at the Alliance for Health and Social Care includes centrally a forum of the voices of lived experience. The emphasis is upon these voices making major contributions to policy developments. The programme networks deeply with many health and social care sectors, and across mutlti-sectional work relating to gambling harms. It mounts its own events to raise awareness and amplifies the work of others, especially community organisations such as The Machine Zone.  Their 2021 Report, Reducing Gambling Harm in Greater Glasgow: A Community Conversation overviews key points emerging from discussion among lived experience members. Reducing-Gambling-Harm-A-Glasgow-community-conversation

The group also produced in 2020 a ‘three horizons’ representation. In an Alliance event to discuss this, Graham Leicester from Internatioal Futures Forum said, “The first horizon is the dominant system today – business as usual. The third horizon is the changed system we want to see in the future. And the second horizon is the messy piece in the middle, the pattern of change and innovation. Some change will help to improve what we already have. Some of it will instead feed the third horizon, growing a very different system for the future.” It’s a very interesting model if you’re unfamiliar with it, and particularly powerful in showing the group’s thinking on needed work to address gambling harms. See more here.

This refers to just a little of what Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm is achieving. If you’re a community practitioner, they are essential partners (and very helpful and friendly too!)

Some Recent Work and Looking to The Future


This overview points to work being done by statutory bodies such as Glasgow City Council and Public Health Scotland, some larger Third Sector organisations, the voices of lived experience, community organisations and smaller Third Sector addresses to gambling harms.

We aim to publish a second overview in March 2023 which will detail our further research into especially the latter groupings. Whe you consider all the general categories of interest involved it is hard to think of any where gambling harms do not fit as an issue. The justice system, educations, parents and families, health and social care, suicide prevention, finance, for example. Then the particular refractions at play when gambling harms are considered as applying with need for special focus: young people, university students, offenders, religious affiliations, genders, ethnicities, refugees, the many hurt by suffering both gambling and substance issues, the elderly, people bereaved by losing someone to gambing, those suffering multiple disadvantages and deprivations, people with mental health disorders, the homeless….  But these are headings for categories and a unique individual is not a unit in a category. All of us have cross-cutting identities. We are (if we are defined at all, and often by support services), this, that and a trail of others.

In an ideal world this intersectionality would be recognised so that each of us are seen as complex and unique, the ‘whole-person’ approach. Similarly, in an ideal world the many cross-cutting factors of a city would lead to a final, settled and coherent ‘whole-city’ solution to any social issue. As it is, these  are perhaps best seen as goals to strive for, the journey being the destination itself.

Since gambling harms ripple through communities in practice those agencies which specialise in a particular focus will bring their experience to bear on particular constituencies. So, for example, the Simon Community is beginning to address gambling and homelessness. The Scottish Women’s Convention joined with the Scotland Reducing Harm programme (above) to address the particular gambling harms experienced by women (Scot Womens Convention Gambling).

The Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE), COPE Scotland, Machine Zone, Glasgow Helping Heroes, Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector and We Are With You  work with the Glasgow City Suicide Prevention Partnership to develop models of support for individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts linked to gambling. That’s a good example of partnership working. One outcome has been the excellent booklet we’ve referred to elsewhere produced by COPE Scotland (COPE: Gambling Harms_booklet_June_2022)

These are a few examples and we’ll list more in our later overview. One of the frequent calls has been for ‘asset mapping’ in Glasgow. What support is available? Who is doing what? We hope in the next few months to have contributed a little, necessarily very limited, insight or two to this.

We end with a brief reference to how Glasgow is, and has to be, interacting with developments elsewhere. For instance, the Scottish Gambling Education Network while primarily developing work with youg people to the age of 25 or so, also delivers trainig for anybody workig with youth, and additionally regularly stages events of interest to all involved with addressing gambling harms. Spefically too, as one example, they’ve toured university campuses in Scotland (takig in Glasgow on the way!). Their website also includes some excellent resources.

The Machine Zone, while firmly planted in Glasgow and nearby, has benefited immensely from working and learning with people and organisations not only across the UK but from as far away as Australia and the Americas. Nearer home we have been encouraged to see how lived experience is embodied into Greater Manchester’s holistic work on gambling harms, and how, for instance, a report for Public Health Wales mirrors much of Public Health Scotland’s work: Gambling-as-Public-Health-Issue-Wales

Finally, we have to give extreme emphasis to the powerful growth of many organisations in the UK and elsewhere in the world, particularly Australia and the Americas, based solely on the voices of lived experience. Frequently these have begun with one then two individuals and become major sources of support and encouragement for many thousands who in many different ways are working hard to reduce gambling harms and do their bit to prevent others having to suffer what they have.