Beat the Fix: looking back and forwards

John who lost his son to gambling. A still from our forthcoming film ‘One Last Spin’

Quite some time since we set up The Machine Zone, our community interest company – which sounds la-di-da but has actually been two guys working hard to contribute a little bit to raising awareness about gambling damage, and campaigning to get harms reduced. It’s felt like the equivalent of a fulltime job with lots of overtime but we are just one of hundreds of similar individuals and small groups. We’re not remotely in the same area as those receiving millions in funding from the gambling industry and nor would we ever wish to be.

We started by focusing on the scourge of fixed odds betting terminals in bookies shops. Along with many other victims with lived experience we campaigned against this ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling. Many members of parliament, some newspapers, more than a few academics, social justice organisations, churches, city councils, British medical and psychiatry associations, and many prominent individuals were also campaigning and these machines had their maximum stake reduced from £100 to £2. So instead of being able to lose £300 in a minute of roulette, the most popular game, you could now lose ‘only’ £6 – or more than £300 in an hour. They continue to represent a cause of harm, especially in the most deprived communities where bookies cluster. The ARCHIVE section of this site contains stuff about these machines and the campaign.

Of course, the focus now is on the casino in your pocket, the saturation advertising and enticements to gamble 24/7, the grooming of children via loot boxes, the embedding of gambling into football and other sports, and the harms arising from scratch cards including those promoted by the National Lottery. While the latter does indeed fund many not only worthy but often life saving causes, there is growing concern that especially the poorest people are being harmed by its products. They also contributed to the £1 billion profit of the firm behind the lottery, Camelot, over the lockdown period. One may question also whether as a society we want vital services funded by gambling which disproportionally may harm the most vulnerable.

Anyway! We won’t be seeking funding from the National Lottery. We did get NHS funding this year, our first ever funding, for our anti-stigma work which includes a new website that features a compelling interview with Martin, the main man behind all our work. We’re now well into production of a film, One Last Spin, delayed by lockdown but scheduled for a premiere in December. Then in 2022 we will be doing screenings in community venues. These will initially be in Glasgow but we’re hoping to take it all over Scotland in the future. Looking forward to a trip to the Orkeny Isles!

The film features interviews with four people, including Martin, who have experienced dire harm from gambling. Complementing the interviews will be dramatised sequences to go with each story. Also in the film is Ronnie Cowan MP Inverclyde and Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gamblingg Harms, Professor Gerda Reith of Glasgow University who has many decades of research into gambling, and Will Griffiths who led the Alliance Scotland Health & Social Care) project to set up forums of lived experience throughout Scotland. He’s since left to take up a role as policy advisor with the Scottish government. We welcome his replacement, Georgina Charlton and greatly look forward to working with her.

Professor Gerda Reith

We’d further like to welcome Fay Laidler who from October, as part of a PhD project, will be complementing the Alliance work by seeking to establish lived experience testimonies from women and Black, Asian & Minority Ethnicities.

Made up too to welcome Chris Lee as a Machine Zone Director. He’s building up a much-needed peer support service in Scotland called Chatter.

Our work over the past four and a half years has been hard and tiring, sometimes discouraging, but we’ve been surrounded by so many wonderful individuals and groups fired with passion to tackle a big source of distress and misery to so many. We’ll never walk alone, and we’ll carry on doing our little bit.

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