Gambling firms profiting from pandemic ‘leaving the NHS to pick up the pieces’

‘Firms are focused on profit at the expense of people’s health,’ says NHS England official

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 07 April 2021 12:10 BST
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Woman uses online gambling website
Woman uses online gambling website (PA)

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Gambling companies seeing a huge boost to profit during the coronavirus lockdowns have left the NHS to “pick up the pieces” of addiction, according to the health service’s head of mental health in England.

Claire Murdoch, mental health director for NHS England, said it was time for betting firms to be hit with a mandatory tax to help pay for more treatment services.

The health service official condemned the voluntary system which allows the industry to decide how much it wants to donates to treatment services, as the government reviews legislation governing the sector.

“After seeing the destruction the gambling industry has caused to young people in this country, it is clear that firms are focused on profit at the expense of people’s health, while the NHS is increasingly left to pick up the pieces,” Ms Murdoch told The Guardian.

“In a year when the NHS has dealt with our biggest challenge yet in Covid-19, the health service’s psychologists and nurses having been treating hundreds of people with severe gambling addictions.”

The NHS official added: “The gambling industry must take more responsibility … The bookmakers must also step up and agree to a mandatory levy to pay for dealing with the harms of problem gambling.”

Ms Murdoch said 750 people had been referred to specialist clinics for serious gambling addiction since April 2020, but campaigners believe these cases are just the “tip of the iceberg”.

A 2018 report by NHS Digital estimated that there are around 280,000 problem gamblers across England, and the health service wants to open more addiction treatment clinics across the country.

The rise in online gambling during lockdown has meant a huge boost for some of the country’s leading gambling firms. The owner of Ladbrokes and Coral reported profits of £175m in the year to the end of 2020.

The gross gambling yield among the biggest operators increased by 30 per cent during the lockdown between November and December, according to data from the Gambling Commission regulator.

Denise Coates, chief executive of Bet365, was criticised last week for receiving an annual salary of £421m. The High Pay Centre claimed it was “appallingly inefficient for single individuals to hoard wealth in this way”.

Bet365 boss Denise Coates
Bet365 boss Denise Coates (PA)

Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs the cross-party group on gambling harm, said the current model of voluntary contributions from the industry “fails so badly”. She tweeted: “A [mandatory] levy will ensure fairness, impartiality and target real need.”

Campaigners have argued that the firms’ voluntary payments have been too little. The industry gave GambleAware – the body which receives and distributes the funds to various charities – around £9.6m in 2018-19, the most recent figures show.

A spokesman for Betting and Gaming Council, the umbrella body for UK gambling firms, said: “For over 20 years our industry has been the sole funder of research, education and treatment and we welcome the recent decision by the NHS to work with the charity administering the funding, GambleAware, to create clinics to help treat problem gamblers.”

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