Group Calls For Charity Commission Probe Of UK's GambleAware

March 6, 2024
The Good Law Project, a non-profit-group, has filed a complaint with the Charity Commission claiming UK industry-funded GambleAware is “propping up an industry that preys on the public”.

The Good Law Project, a non-profit-group, has filed a complaint with the Charity Commission claiming UK industry-funded GambleAware is “propping up an industry that preys on the public”.

The group is asking the commission to launch an investigation into GambleAware, claiming its industry ties mean it is “accepting the false narrative that gambling is a problem for individuals instead of a problem with the industry”.

GambleAware chief executive Zoë Osmond said the group “strongly refute(s) the allegations made in this letter, which are both baseless and highly damaging”.

In a press release, Good Law Project cited GambleAware’s “Bet Regret” ad campaign, which started in 2018 and finished by 2021.

The move comes as the voluntary gambling levy will be replaced by a mandatory one, with the UK’s National Health Service becoming the main commissioner of research, prevention and treatment of gambling addiction. 

The controversy also comes as part of a long-running debate over whether the gambling industry exerts too much control, even indirectly, over gambling research.

Some argue that industry funding, even kept at arm’s length from the research, would be like the tobacco industry guiding research into the impact of cigarettes or vapes.

“Gambling is the new smoking,” former Belgian minister Vincent van Quickenborne said when announcing plans for a ban on most gambling ads in Belgium.

Last week, Franc Weerwind, the Dutch minister for legal protection, delivered a promise to soon establish a new centre for gambling addiction research that “can operate independently of any interests in the field of games of chance”.

But in Sweden, government-owned Svenska Spel has an Independent Research Council that funds much Swedish gambling research. 

Osmond of GambleAware defended the industry-funded charity’s work.

“Our public health campaigns, created in collaboration with people who have experienced gambling harm, break down barriers for support and shine a light on the fact gambling harm can affect anyone,” she said.

“We are robustly independent from the gambling industry, having long called for further regulation on gambling advertising and for the implementation of a statutory funding system to hold the gambling industry to account.”

On its website, GambleAware said it has taken steps to ensure independent research, saying it “has no trustees, managers or decision makers who are employed, paid by or connected to the gambling industry”.

“Our board includes trustees who have extensive public health and NHS backgrounds, selected based on their expertise to support the commissioning of best practice national prevention, education, treatment and support services.”

Some funders of gambling research more directly commend their sponsors than GambleAware does.  

The Massachusetts-based International Center for Responsible Gaming promises “high-quality scientific research and evidence-based educational programming on gambling disorder and responsible gambling”.

Its “gold” sponsors are casino brands Bally’s, Caesars and Las Vegas Sands, who gave more than $200,000; and “silver” sponsors are Flutter Entertainment’s FanDuel, payments company JCM Global and Wynn, who gave more than $100,000.

Citing “concern about undue influence or bias”, the group said it created a “firewall to insulate the research from industry influence”, which includes funding initiatives approved by an independent panel of addictions researchers, wide distribution of proposals and independent peer-review panels.

The Good Law Project complaint highlighted a GambleAware ad campaign, Bet Regret, which launched more than five years ago, and which finished in January 2021 with a report written by Ipsos Mori.

But in its complaint, it noted that, until recently, GambleAware had a double role, commissioning research and funding specialist gambling addiction clinics.

In February 2022, NHS England said it would no longer accept funding from GambleAware due to concerns about its independence.

“It appears that the key issue was GambleAware’s inability to promote treatment solutions which recognise that the industry’s predatory tactics, rather than individual weakness, are the key driver in gambling addiction,” Good Law Project wrote

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