New Sports Minister Mims Davies has revived the threat of a mandatory levy on gambling operators, should the existing voluntary donations system fail to adequately support problem gambling services.
Davies (pictured) welcomed a “substantial increase” in industry donations to problem gambling treatment bodies this year, in a speech at the GambleAware conference in London – her first major intervention on gambling since replacing Tracey Crouch last month.
Figures published in July show that operators’ donations trebled year-on-year in the three months to June 30, with Davies citing the new GambleAware-funded NHS clinic and Problem Gambling Support Team in Leeds as evidence of improvements in care.
Maintaining that the Government wants the sector to “generate employment and investment”, she said it is essential that operators continue to meet expectations prescribed by the Gambling Commission in its Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice.
“I am pleased to see a substantial increase in industry donations this year to help tackle problem gambling,” she told delegates. “This is vital work to ensure support for those who experience harm.
“We want the voluntary system to work – but if it doesn’t, we do not rule out other ways of funding support, including a mandatory levy.
“The profits of gambling operators aren’t my prime concern. Ensuring problem gamblers have access to the right treatment is.”
The donation-based system that funds GambleAware was proposed under the 2005 Gambling Act. UK-facing operators are asked to donate annually a minimum of 0.1% of their annual gross gambling yield directly to the charity.
In a further update on how the government is looking to reduce problem gambling-related harm, Davies said discussions continue as to whether there should be a ban on the use of credit cards in gambling transactions. With the FOBT maximum stake reduction now confirmed for April, the Minister said operators are “expected to mitigate the employment impacts and provide support to those who are affected by any job losses.”
Davies added that she and Minister for Digital Margot James will meet with gambling and technology executives next week to discuss technological solutions that could help protect vulnerable people from gambling-related harm.
“This includes building our understanding of how online advertising is actively targeted away from children as the rules require, as well as understanding the opportunities for using new technology to strengthen player protections online,” she said.
“As the gambling industry continues to evolve and adopt new technologies, we need to keep pace in terms of regulation and protecting players.
“Let me be clear, I expect industry to take action where they believe harm is taking place and I expect them to take steps to minimise it.”
In July, GambleAware said it was making “good progress” towards funding its £16m (€18m/$21m) spending plan after seeing a spike in voluntary donations from the industry.
The UK charity, which called for a statutory levy last year in response to poor donation figures, received £2.8m during the three months to June 30, which was almost treble the approximately £1m in the same period last year.