Five of the UK’s biggest gambling companies have committed to pay around £60m a year towards treatment for problem gamblers.
In response to growing calls to address the harms caused by gambling addiction, William Hill, Ladbrokes Coral, Paddy Power Betfair, Skybet and Bet 365 have agreed to increase a voluntary levy on their profits from its current level of 0.1 per cent to 1 per cent by 2023. The change is forecast to bring in around £60m per year.
Britain’s gambling industry made around £14.5bn in profits last year but currently pays only a tiny proportion towards research and treatment, leaving the public to pick up the bulk of the tab and prompting calls for the voluntary contributions to become mandatory and higher.
The new voluntary commitment will head off demands from NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens who called last month for a tax on betting firms, to be used to pay for addiction treatment.
Separately, over the next four years, the firms have pledged to cumulatively spend £100m on addiction treatment and cooperate with health organisations to determine where support is most needed.
The companies have also agreed to “review the tone and content” of advertising and marketing, as well as increase messages regarding safer gambling. The five firms will be required to report on their progress to industry regulator the Gambling Commission.
Last week, the commission faced criticism for its lack of action to bring firms into line. The watchdog hailed 2018-19 as a record year for fines, imposing a combined £19.6m penalty on gambling companies for breaching licensing rules. But campaigners described the haul as “pocket change”, given the profits made by the industry.
“Addicts are collateral damage for these companies, a point on the balance sheet,” said Adam Bradford of the Safer Online Gambling Group.
Peter Jackson, chief executive officer of Flutter, owner of Paddy Power Betfair, said the new funding commitment was “unprecedented” and would allow a significant expansion in treatment.
“Our aim is nothing less than a step change in how we tackle gambling-related harm,” Mr Jackson said on behalf of all five companies.
Culture secretary Jeremy Wright said: “We will monitor closely the progress of these new measures and encourage the wider industry to step up. The government will not hesitate to take further action to protect people from gambling-related harm.”
However, Tom Watson, shadow culture secretary and Labour Party deputy leader, said a mandatory levy was still required because too many gambling companies “still shirk their responsibilities”.
He added: “The providers of research and treatment of problem gambling need the guarantees of consistent funding and a proper structure that only comes with a mandatory levy.”
Last week, the NHS announced it will launch its first gambling clinic for children. The service aimed exclusively at those aged 13 to 25 comes in response to concerns that young people are being increasingly exposed to gambling advertising. It will open alongside the UK’s only dedicated gambling addiction clinic in London.
A further 14 NHS treatment centres are due to open across England this year.
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