Inspired by a debate between Joe Saxton and an employee of the Gambling Commission, David Philpott devises his own solution to who is best placed to regulate society lotteries.
Returning to the Abbey Hotel in Redditch for the Lotteries Council Annual Conference is a bit like re-visiting the place you grew-up; so much is familiar but so much has changed.
I am not speaking of the hotel itself of course, but of the people one sees. There are always the usual suspects – those perennial stalwarts of the Society Lottery industry - football and rugby club community draws, the hospice movement and those pesky Air Ambulance charities - and then each year, a smattering of newbies; keen, energised and oh so passionate for their respective causes. It is enough to make an old cynic like me envious of their enthusiasm. It reminds me of the days when all things were possible and every set-back a challenge to be overcome.
I missed the conference last year, but since the mid-naughties have been making this annual pilgrimage up the M40 to bathe in the healing waters of best practice guidance, upselling techniques or Gambling Commission Consultations – to name but a few of the remedies that the very talented Tina Sandford - executive officer to the Council - purveys to the delegates each year, by way of expert speakers or facilitated workshops.
As I exfoliated in the sauna (close your eyes now) and vaporised myself in the steam room, I remembered those heady days of old when we were thrashing out the implications of the 2005 Gaming Act in this very hotel ; indeed in this very Jacuzzi. Life can sometimes be tough at the top in the world of weekly draws, charity scratch cards and summer prize draws.
For me, yesterday’s keynote speech by Joe Saxton of npfSynergy was perhaps the most stimulating. Why, he argued, are charity lotteries and raffles regulated by the Gambling Commission, when there is not a shred of evidence that subscribing to a weekly draw by direct debit, has ever led anyone to develop a problem gambling habit?
Furthermore – and I paraphrase - why is it that charity lotteries are the only regulated activity that appears to be limited and contained for no other reason than to protect the National Lottery monopoly? Such a protectionist policy – endorsed by successive governments – runs counter to market competition which has become part and parcel of our everyday life – witness the choice we have with energy suppliers these days.
Why is it, Mr Saxton lamented, that the Gambling Commission are making it so darn hard to do good when raising funds for good causes – and adding insult to injury by lumping charity fundraisers in with casinos and online poker operators (read gangsters and Mafioso’s) in their regulatory zest? “You are the dolphins caught-up in the tuna nets of the Gambling Commission” he declaimed to the assembled throng of delegates.
“It is the law” said the man from the Gambling Commission. He, it seemed, was having none of it. “Lotteries are a form of gambling and as such need to be regulated” he pronounced with the assurance of a Baptist minister in days of yore.
So here’s my back-of-the-fag packet solution for the very eloquent Mr Saxton and the equally erudite man from the Gambling Commission. How about we take charity lotteries out of the whole gambling regulatory regime and reclassify them as “Incentivised Fundraising” - to be regulated (if any is needed) by none other than the Charity Commission under extant charity legislation?
So confident am I that this is just plain logic and so simple to do - that I would bet my shirt on the fact that it is never going to happen. Governments you see - like French car manufactures - when given a choice between easy and complicated, always go for complicated.