Brigid Simmonds (OBE), Chair of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), has warned the government against radically alerting UK gambling’s RET (research, education and treatment) duties ahead of the release of the White Paper on industry reforms.
Writing an open editorial on Conservative Home, the central news source of the Conservative Party, Simmonds raised concerns that evidence and facts are being overshadowed by emotions and sentiment on the discussion related to problem gambling RET commitments.
According to regulatory statistics, the UK’s problem gambling rates stand at 0.3%, a much lower rate than the likes of Italy (2.4%), France (1.3%) and Norway (1.4%).
“To any dispassionate observer, the obvious conclusion would be that Britain boasts a rigorously regulated market that is keeping rates of problem gambling low,” Simmonds wrote.
“For the past 20 years, the industry has rightly shouldered the financial responsibility for that work by paying a voluntary levy to fund independent charities tackling problem gambling.”
Despite registering marked improvements, the industry’s current framework has come under attack from gambling reformists who demand that a statutory levy be imposed on operators who should be forced to pay a direct RET tax.
Last week, GambleAware reiterated its belief that a mandatory levy is required in the UK in order to support gambling harm prevention and treatment.
Earlier this year, two senior NHS clinicians also urged the UK government to impose the levy.
But, according to Simmonds, a blanket levy paid directly to the Department of Health and Social Care would not raise materially more money for RET causes.
It has been suggested that reformists’ concerns on the independence of funding were illegitimate, as contributions to the voluntary levy were overseen by GambleAware – whose independent board of Trustees expects to see income increase to £39m by 2023/24.
In fact, since 2020, the UK’s four largest gambling businesses – 888, Entain, Flutter and bet365 – have contributed 1% revenues directly to GambleAware, guaranteeing a total of £100m of funds raised for problem gambling treatment and support by 2024.
Simmonds stands by the existing funding structure that has been developed to tackle the distinct challenge of gambling addiction and gambling disorders across British communities, that require clinical assessment.
The UK has established a mature treatment support network that provides around 160 locations used by charities for face-to-face counselling with victims of problem gambling.
Third-party charities such as GamCare, operator of the UK’s problem gambling helpline, Gordon Moody, who provide localised treatment support, and youth education charity YGAM, were deemed as critical stakeholders of the network supporting NHS services.
A new funding structure would threaten the work and research of GambleAware and partner charities that had been established over a 20-year period, in which the NHS had only provided dedicated services since 2019.
“A statutory levy would risk their funding models by potentially taking cash out of their coffers, and putting it into the NHS, which is not set up to deliver these services,” added Simmonds.
“Meanwhile, the industry and charities have spent the last two decades busy getting on with the issue.
“Is it really designed to help RET or the general public – or is it a punitive measure to placate the anti-gambling lobby?
“Any statutory levy will not boost funding for RET; the money is already in the system with a bigger, broader commitment going forward.
“So think very carefully whether a statutory replacement would be better, would have better outcomes, and would help the vast majority of those who have a problem with gambling which can be helped outside of an NHS framework.”