AFC Wimbledon holding up a sign produced by the Big Step campaign which reads: "Let's Kick Gambling Ads Out Of Football"

Big Step campaign plans to deliver effective gambling education in Wimbledon

In its new partnership with AFC Wimbledon, the Big Step campaign plans to deliver effective preventative training and education on gambling.

On 17 November, AFC Wimbledon announced it had become the fifth football league club to support the Big Step campaign, which aims to end gambling advertising and sponsorship in football.

The Big Step’s communications manager, Tom Fleming, explained that, as part of its partnership with AFC Wimbledon, the campaign plans to deliver preventative training and education for the staff at the club, and for young people in the community.

Fleming said: “What sets our messaging and training apart from that of gambling industry-funded charities is that we focus on the true source of gambling harm: addictive gambling products and dangerous gambling industry products, not people suffering with addiction.

“Essentially, we will provide people with complete information – the opposite to the industry-sponsored messaging you will have seen during last week’s stigmatising ‘Safer Gambling Week’, which put all the impetus to stop gambling on the individual.”

Safer Gambling Week, which took place from 13 to 19 November this year, is an industry initiative, organised in part by the Betting and Gaming Council, the main gambling industry body.

Its messaging included a social media post on 13 November stating: “It’s not about quitting; it’s about balance.”

This industry-sponsored messaging differs from that produced by the Big Step campaign and the charity Gambling with Lives, which runs Big Step.

In September 2021, Gambling with Lives launched its gambling education programme.

This includes learning areas on gambling product design, gambling marketing, and gambling harms.

Dr May van Schalkwyk, a public health doctor and honorary research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is also critical of industry-funded preventative messaging.

Dr van Schalkwyk said: “Public health messaging and warnings about the harms associated with gambling products must be designed and implemented completely independent of the gambling industry, including its funding, given the considerable conflicts of interests involved.

“It is deeply concerning that the gambling industry and those dependent on its funding have overseen the delivery of public health warnings and campaigns for so long given the evidence we have on the practices of harmful industries.”

A journal article co-authored by Dr van Schalkwyk in 2021 analysed the ‘responsible gambling’ campaign When the Fun Stops, Stop, which was delivered by the gambling industry-funded Senet Group, before being taken up by the Betting and Gaming Council.

This concluded that the campaign was contrary to the evidence of what works in health promotion.

Another journal article in 2021, authored by Dr Philip Newall of Bristol University among others, evaluated the effectiveness of the Betting and Gaming Council’s Take Time to Think safer gambling campaign.

This found that the campaign had no credible beneficial effects on gambling behaviours.

Fleming, the Big Step’s communications manager, said: “Can you imagine if the so-called health messaging around drug addiction involved telling people suffering with addiction to ‘take time to think’?”

AFC Wimbledon announced its support for Big Step after a vote by the supporter’s group which owns the club, The Dons Trust.

Out of 1,199 participating members, 79% voted to support the campaign.

The club’s manager Johnnie Jackson stated: “The more awareness around gambling you can create, the better.”

Fleming explained: “If every club polled their fans on whether or not they wanted a gambling sponsor, then gambling sponsorship would soon be a thing of the past.”

The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities has estimated that there are up to 496 gambling-related suicides in a year in England.

On 23 November, the Gambling Commission, the industry regulator, published figures detailing that as much as 2.5% of the British adult population could have gambling problems.

A spokesperson for Safer Gambling Week said: “The aim of Safer Gambling Week is to kickstart a national conversation between staff, customers and their friends and family, about safer gambling, as well as highlight the range of tools that are available to help people stay in control while signposting the help and support available to those who struggle.”

A spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council said: “The ‘Take Time To Think’ campaign was launched following extensive customer research, as well as engagement with academics, Government stakeholders and operators on the most effective way of encouraging responsible betting.

“Our research has shown that the ‘Take Time To Think’ message will encourage even more customers to pause and consider whether to make use of the wide range of safer gambling tools that are available that will enable them to stay in control of their betting.”

Featured image credit: AFC Wimbledon

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