Letters on Liberty: Risking it all – the freedom to gamble

Battle of Ideas festival 2022, Saturday 15 October, Church House, London


Open debate has been suffocated by today’s censorious climate and there is little cultural support for freedom as a foundational value. What we need is rowdy, good-natured disagreement and people prepared to experiment with what freedom might mean today. Faced with this challenge, the Academy of Ideas decided to launch Letters on Liberty – a radical public pamphleteering campaign aimed at reimagining arguments for freedom in the 21st century.

In his Letter – Risking it all: the freedom to gamble – writer and poker player Jon Bryan argues that we should all be concerned about the introduction of more restrictions on gambling. Almost every proposal on gambling regulation today is about limiting what we can do, he argues, often taking away both our privacy and basic freedoms. The narrative behind concerns about gambling is the idea that the state should step in and control our finances, as we cannot be trusted with them. The consequences of accepting controls and restrictions in this area of life, he argues, sets a precedent for their introduction elsewhere.

Jon and respondents discuss why being free to risk it all is something worth protecting. How do we deal with problem gambling – tragic stories of people who have become destitute – if not through restrictions? Is there a class element to the way in which gambling is often discussed, with words like feckless playing into existing prejudices about how working-class people manage their lives? And from drinking and smoking to gambling and enjoying extreme sports, why do we seem so keen on controlling the personal decisions citizens are allowed to make about their own lives?

Jon Bryan
gambling writer and poker player

Mark Littlewood
director general, Institute of Economic Affairs; broadcaster and columnist, The Times

Ed Rennie
Catholic writer; political analyst

Brigid Simmonds OBE
chair, Betting and Gaming Council

Hilary Salt FIA, FPMI, FRSA
actuary; founder, First Actuarial