Bookmakers will be forced to pay £5m for gambling studies

By Michael Savage, Political Correspondent
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The Independent Online

Bookmakers and other gaming companies will be forced to hand over more than £5m a year to fund education programmes, helplines and research into problem gambling under a plan to be announced today. A voluntary donation scheme has been in place since 2002 but over the past two years major operators have had to step in at the last minute to meet the funding target when smaller outlets refused to contribute.

Now the Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, has finally lost patience with the gambling industry after the emergence of a £1.2m shortfall in donations for 2008-09.

Currently, 80 per cent of the donations given to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust (RIGT) come from just 30 major donors.

A Whitehall source said: "This move will secure the future of problem gambling treatment and will ensure that all operators pay their way. Discussions continuing on the voluntary route have so far fallen short of the mark and now is the time to get this sorted one way or another."

Small, on-course bookmakers will not be included in the compulsory donation system. A bookmaker with one shop will have to donate between £180 and £300 a year. Big national chains will be asked for a six-figure sum. There are between 250,000 and 300,000 problem gamblers in Britain, and a further 1.25 million "at risk".

Gambling operators have 12 weeks while a consultation takes place to save themselves from the statutory system by agreeing a voluntary deal, but a Whitehall source said the situation was now urgent.

"The prospect of a voluntary agreement is still on the cards if the industry can give satisfactory guarantees. But the clock is now ticking."

The plan has already created a backlash from the gambling industry, which argues that despite the public's perception, the industry is suffering from the economic downturn.

"We are being singled out for some sort of special treatment," said Russ Phillips, the chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers. "We must not assume that gambling outlets have special privileges protecting them from the credit crunch. The whole industry has been hit and we have to be realistic about how much can be raised."

Last night, the RIGT chairman, the Conservative MP John Greenway, welcomed the Government's ultimatum. "This will provide much-needed clarity to the gambling industry as to what it faces under a statutory system."