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 of publication of the White Paper on industry reforms.
Writing an open editorial on Conservative Home, the central news source of the Conservative Party, Simmonds acknowledged that emotions had surpassed evidence on the discussion related to problem gambling RET commitments.
The existing framework was described as a ‘perplexing paradox’ in which UK licensed operators face hostilities for taking bets of 22.5 million adults each month.
Yet, according to regulatory statistics, the UK’s problem gambling rates stand at 0.3%, a much lower rate than the European counterparts 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 twenty 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.
Simmonds reiterated the BGC previous warning that a blanket levy paid directly to the Department of Health and Social Care would not raise materially more money for RET causes.
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 £39 million by 2023/24.
Of significance to RET developments, 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 £100 million 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 the NHS local 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
Simmonds warned – “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. Meanwhile, the industry and charities have spent the last two decades busy getting on with the issue,” Simmonds continued.
“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.”