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NHS chief takes swipe at freeloading bookies

| By iGB Editorial Team
RGA again calls for statutory levy after health service CEO expresses problem gambling concerns

The Remote Gaming Association has reiterated its calls for a statutory levy on gambling operators in the UK after the head of the NHS accused the industry of failing to play its part in tackling problem gambling.

Simon Stevens said he was “deeply concerned” by the lack of action to tackle addictive behaviours, saying the health service should not be funding a growing societal problem.

In a speech in Manchester he took a swipe at operators who do not make the expected voluntary charitable donation of 0.1% of revenues to GambleAware, which helps to fund treatment for problem gambling. Their underfunding of the charity, which works with partners such as GamCare, has left the UK taxpayer to “pick up the pieces”, according to Stevens (pictured).

In particular he drew attention to the eight sponsors of Premier League football clubs who have not donated to GambleAware, and called on league officials to help persuade them to “do the right thing.”

“The NHS has opened its first mental health clinic aimed at gambling, and the Gambling Commission estimates there are 430,000 people with a gambling problem,” Stevens said.

“This is at the same time as the voluntary contribution from the gambling industry has not been responded to by eight overseas firms who sponsor Premier League clubs, so we need to get onto the Premier League to make sure they contribute.

“There is an increasing link between problem gambling and stress, depression and other mental health problems.”

The voluntary nature of the donations was part of a deal struck with the last Labour government when it deregulated gambling. While the RGA has long been generally opposed to statutory levies, such as the Horserace Betting Levy, it believes it is time that operators are forced to make a contribution.

“This is the only way to ensure the levels of long term and sustainable funding that are needed to provide the support that is required for those affected by gambling-related harm,” Brian Wright, the RGA’s director of business, told iGamingBusiness.com.

“In contrast to voluntary contributions to GambleAware, we believe that a statutory levy would create a much more transparent process and provide a degree of Parliamentary oversight.”

Since the RGA originally backed the statutory levy in December 2017 it has taken steps to progress the idea. It held talks with government officials and submitted proposals on how the levy could work.

The government is able to introduce a statutory levy by activating the reserve power enshrined in the Gambling Act 2005, and Wright is confident that changes could be introduced in the near future.

He said: “In the current climate, the gambling industry, both land-based and online, is repeatedly criticised for not contributing enough and in public little if any distinction is drawn between regular payers; under-payers; and non-payers. A levy would provide an equitable solution where all would contribute on a proportionate basis.”

While many oppose the voluntary donation framework, donations have increased significantly since the RGA’s backing of a statutory levy. Figures released by GambleAware in July show that it received £2.8m (€3.1m/$3.6m) during the three months to June 30, which was almost treble the approximately £1m in the same period last year.

GambleAware, which funds research, education and treatment services to help to reduce gambling-related harms, at the time said it believes it is on track to reach its £10m donation target, which is the amount it believes is required to pay for its recently announced Strategic Delivery Plan, which outlines spending of £32m over the next two years.

Image: NHS Confederation

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