Paul Bellringer OBE opens bacta safer Gambling Hub

Bacta was honoured to welcome the pioneer of safer gambling, Paul Bellringer OBE to open its Safer Gambling Hub at EAG. In his opening address Paul reflected on the industry’s  record integrating safer gambling into its philosophy, policy and practice.

“Whilst I am uncertain of the epithet I was recently given as being the ‘Godfather’ of responsible gambling unless it is a reference to the fact I am now very long in the tooth, I am honoured to have been asked to officially open the bacta safer gambling hub 

Many congratulations to BACTA, the EAG, and others involved in this helpful and ground breaking initiative.

When I first got involved in 1980, apart from GA and a very small residential unit, there was little help for those affected by a dependency on gambling and virtually no recognition from government or the gambling industry that it was a problem that urgently needed addressing.

That decade saw the arrival and growth of inland amusement centres which, in addition to bringing the fun and excitement of arcades onto the high street, unfortunately led to an increase in problem gambling – especially by young people. 

That led me to form the UK Forum on Young People and Gambling, but this charity was too small to make a real impact.  It did, however, serve the purpose of establishing initial links with Alan Willis and BACTA.

Then, with the help and support of Nigel Kent-Lemon who was MD of Maxim’s Casino, we launched GamCare in 1997.  I am gratified that the charity today maintains its original key strands such as running the national helpline: establishing a nation-wide face-to-face counselling programme; and training for practitioners as well as personnel within the gambling industry.

And this is where BACTA comes in as together with the Association of British Bookmakers they became the first sectors to seriously embrace the integration of safer gambling practices within their operations.  

From your sector I unashamedly single out three people who were particularly supportive of GamCare and its purpose, and who significantly helped a somewhat sceptical industry realise the introduction of safer gambling was good for business:  Simon Thomas, who worked with me to draw up a voluntary code of practice for the sector was then endorsed by BACTA and later formed the LCCP in the Gambling Act of 2005; Nick Harding who was very supportive of me and helped convince the sceptics to change, and John White when he first worked for BACTA.  An honourable mention also goes to Phil Silver as, some years later, we worked together on responsible gambling compliance issues 

Although for a while there was much lip-service within the sector and I was branded ‘a trojan-horse’ by someone who will remain nameless, with the help of those I have mentioned and a dawning realisation that a responsible gambling approach did no harm to the business, the Amusement sector began a journey that, as this Hub demonstrates, has travelled a long way to integrate safer gambling into its philosophy, policy and practice.

As you might imagine, from those humble beginnings years ago to the comprehensive measures now in place, I feel a great deal of satisfaction and a little bit of Wow!  

This Hub is another step in ensuring the right balance between running a leisure industry business and protecting the customer. I am delighted to see this excellent facility in the heart of a major trade Expo that brings together key organisations like Breakeven, who has built a formidable reputation in the South of England thanks to the dedication of Ian and Alex Semel; YGAM, of which I am a patron, with their outstanding education programmes; GamStop, that has been a pioneer in helping people self-exclude from online gambling; and the other organisations all playing their part in the overall approach including, of course, the one that led the way – GamCare.  I am sure they are, like me, all grateful to BACTA and EAG in providing this fantastic central point of contact and information.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to officially declare the bacta Safer Gambling Hub open.”