Responsible gambling

The case for a gambling-free Christmas Day

Alex Macey, founder of the nobet364 movement, says gambling sites should go dark on 25 December

The idea of not gambling for one day – on Christmas Day – was thought up after some long-buried memories of mine recently came to the forefront as we lead up to the festive period.

As a previous sufferer of destructive and disordered gambling, the consequences of such behaviour often led me to be a solitary figure on Christmas Day, despite friends and family trying their best to involve me. The truth of the matter was that the Christmas period compounded and brought together everything that was wrong in my life, all things seemingly leading back to a lifetime battle against my gambling demons.

I remember one time, I opened up an envelope from my dear Grandfather on Christmas Eve, knowing it would contain money for me. I went down to the bank and cashed the money, priming myself for the next day to be comforted by the roulette wheel and the slots, to allow me to escape the inner turmoil of my life and deep loneliness.  Of course, after just an hour or two I had lost the money and then scrambled around to extend an overdraft, frantically needing to keep the impending doom at bay for as long as possible.

So much for Happy Christmas. It felt like the worst day of the year.

Having formed a close bond with many other previous disordered gamblers, it has become apparent that the Christmas period was a time of great turmoil for many, not just myself. I pondered what it would be like for those now in a similar position, the destruction of their addiction unknown to their loved ones and maybe even to themselves. I asked why, if the casinos and high street bookies are closed on this day, why couldn’t the online platforms follow suit?  After all, there are no sporting events to bet on (unless you seek them out in some obscure game in an overseas league – which, of course, is in itself a sign of disordered gambling). With the online casinos being the sole reason for the distress and loneliness that many disordered gamblers feel on Christmas Day, how wonderful would it be that just for one day meaningful limits were imposed by the operators?

Those who have followed the gambling debate will know that this is not a new concern. Before the 2005 Gambling Act, faith groups and union leaders petitioned the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, to ensure that gambling on Christmas Day would not be included in the draft Bill. They said that plans to allow land-based casinos and betting shops to open at Christmas would be “socially and personally damaging”. Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay said at the time that “Christmas Day is a special time for families, not just Christians but people of all faiths and none”. Not to mention the fact that it also ensures workers have a day off.

That is why we have launched the Nobet364 campaign. We believe that this special time of the year deserves a show of unity, just for one day, between operators, gamblers and disordered gamblers.

The message is simple: just for one day, let’s be united by embracing the idea of closing for Christmas Day and allowing many just a slight piece of mind that their loneliness won’t be compounded further into what could end up being a much sadder day than it needed to be. For the gambling industry to come onboard, to show unity or at least to simply acknowledge the concept, would surely do wonders at a time when all the focus is upon negativity towards them. As analysts at Regulus Partners have written, ‘many of the advances made by British licensees to reduce risk of harm have arisen from a willingness to explore the middle ground with their critics…..Nobet364 raises a number of valid concerns and warrants a positive and constructive response.’

Alex Macey is the founder of the Nobet364 campaign and a former disordered gambler.

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