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US betting lines get a bump

Any readers not currently living under a rock will have this week witnessed the furore surrounding reports that cocaine has been discovered in the White House.

Unlike in the UK, where finding blow in the Houses of Parliament or the government’s ‘grace-and-favour’ house at Chevening is so commonplace as to be considered positively mundane, in the US the revelation has sparked quite the controversy.

As reported by the Washington Times, chatter around who the marching powder belonged to has become so widespread that bookmakers are now looking to get in on the action.

That’s right, offshore bookie SportsBetting.ag is currently offering bets on who brought the devil’s dandruff into the White House, with current President Joe Biden’s son Hunter a firm favourite.

Bets on the yayo belonging to Hunter are paying out at +170 (that’s 7/4 for normal people), while other possible suspects on the list include NFL star Travis Kelce (8/1), “one of the Jonas Brothers” (10/1) and President Biden himself (150/1).

“It gets sillier from there,” the Washington Times reports. “Other celebrities with odds include Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Elton John, Matthew McConaughey and Tom Brady.”

It’s unlikely the smart money will be lumped on either President Biden or Elton John at this stage, given their advanced years (80 and 76 years, respectively) and the powder’s proclivity for wreaking havoc with users’ tickers.

Add to that the slew of videos of favourite Hunter Biden seemingly channeling his inner Tony Montana, and it’s probably fair to assume where most bettors’ money will be going.

For lovers of novelty bets, this is one market not to be sniffed at.

Just how big is the UK’s Gambling Problem?

On to a more *ahem* sober topic, now, as The Critic this week published a piece called “The problem with problem gambling”.

The article zooms in on the UK, where more than seven million patients are currently stuck on National Health Service waiting lists to get the treatment they need.

Add to that “hundreds of excess deaths a week and a five day doctors’ strike to look forward to,” and the article took issue with the chief executive of NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, having appeared on TV this past weekend to instead talk about gambling.

Pritchard announced during her appearance that seven new gambling clinics are set to open in the UK, to meet a “really significant increase in demand” for problem gambling treatments.

“This is good news,” The Critic reports, given that “there is solid evidence that treatment, especially cognitive behavioural therapy, works in tackling gambling disorders.”

However, the outlet did take issue with the way Pritchard presented her case.

“Back in 1948 when the NHS was founded, you had to go to a bookie shop to place a bet. Now it’s 24/7 on people’s phones,” she said.

The Critic pointed out that betting shops were not legalised in the UK until 1961, which “doesn’t undermine her argument, such as it is, but it suggests that she is not entirely on top of her brief.”

What does undermine her argument, the piece suggested, is that “the rates of problem gambling have not risen since people started gambling on their phones.”

According to the article, rates at the population level have “never” risen significantly during the 24 years they have been monitored, and in fact appear to have fallen since 2020.

Other statements in the media around “record referrals” and soaring rates of people seeking treatment are similarly disingenuous, the piece suggested.

“The number of referrals has indeed risen, from 775 in 2020/21 to 1,389 in 2022/23,” the piece reports.

It goes on to ask: “Is 1,389 referrals in a year a big number in a country of 68 million souls? It amounts to three patients per clinic per week. 

“It means that last year, 0.002% of the population sought professional help from an NHS gambling clinic.” 

That number should be considered in perspective, it argues. 

With nearly 400,000 patients waiting more than a year to get their correct appointment via the NHS, does the service have bigger fish to fry?

Pass the remote

Bad news for the working-from-home brigade this week (Hot Copy authors included), as Fortune reported that “fully remote workers are officially less productive.”

The ability to work from wherever you please has “gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have” for many workers in recent years, it said, with some 40% of US employees now working remotely at least one day per week.

But, it added, citing research from professors Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven J. Davis, “fully remote work is associated with 10% to 20% lower productivity than fully in-person work.”

Following the introduction of remote and hybrid work structures during the pandemic, worker productivity “has been plummeting for five straight quarters, for the first time since World War II,” it said, which helps explain why so many big business CEOs have recently been demanding a return to offices.

Apparently, the root cause of this productivity slump is not laziness, but that remote workers face challenges in the areas of communication and motivation.

Supervising, training, mentoring and building company culture is also much more difficult through a screen, the article added.

The piece goes on to set out some of the above-mentioned researchers’ findings in more granular detail, exploring the differences in productivity before and after firms switched from a fully in-person to a fully remote working model.

It also explores the difference between workers’ ‘per day’ and ‘per hour’ productivity, and why remote workers may in fact find themselves working longer hours just to get the same amount of work done.

It concludes by arguing that a hybrid setup is likely the superior solution to this particular problem, with workers able to benefit from the best of both worlds.

As long as that means employees can continue to spend less time commuting, with more time to address their work/life balance, most staff will probably be happy enough with that.