The UK gaming sector has defended its commitment to tackling problem gambling after reports that the NHS is set to sever industry funding for addiction clinics.
The decision, which is reportedly set to be rubberstamped this week so ties can be cut for the new financial year, comes amid mounting public health concerns and calls for gambling to be treated like tobacco.
In another blow to the sector, The Lancet medical journal is expected next month to publish a paper in which doctors and scientists will speak of the urgent need for independent studies into the dangers of gambling.
But the industry defended its donations to addiction clinics and other work connected with problem gambling.
The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) said: "BGC’s largest members have already pledged to spend £100m on research, education and treatment of problem gambling.
“Alongside this funding, our members also contribute to a range of charities to support research, education and treatment.
“This includes £10m in funding for the Young People’s Gambling Harm Prevention Programme for 11-19 year olds.
“Unlike the alcohol industry, which hands the NHS the bill for problems associated with alcohol, for over 20 years our industry has been the majority funder of research, education and treatment for gambling harm."
Zoë Osmond, chief executive of the industry-funded charity GambleAware, said the group had long called for a mandatory levy to ensure "consistency and transparency".
In the year to March 2021, the health service was given £1.2m by betting companies, via GambleAware, to fund its clinics, the Sunday Times reported. The money represents less than half of the cost of running England's problem gambling clinics in London, Leeds, Manchester and Sunderland.
Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones, director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, which is part-funded by GambleAware, said: "We as NHS clinicians have been asking for a very long time for independence of funding from industry. And we are very hopeful that this is an imminent announcement to come.
“It matters enormously and it is very much linked to independence ... from the polluter, from industry."
Bowden-Jones said there had been a "noticeable dearth" of high-quality research, with clinical trials and studies on suicide linked to gambling held back by a "lack of independent funds".
"We have remained in the dark ages, have relied on foreign studies and in doing so, have prolonged the significant harm caused by gambling not just to the individual sufferer but to their families. It is time to break free," she said.
GambleAware also spends more than £8m on clinics run by other organisations.
An NHS spokesperson said no final decision about cutting ties had been made.
It is thought the cost to the health service of running the clinics is likely to be absorbed in general funding already announced for the expansion of its gambling treatment services, sources told the Sunday Times.
MPs and campaigners want the industry to be charged a statutory levy of 1 percent of profits to be spent on treatment, prevention and research, which would then be handled by an independent body.
Bowden-Jones compared what was happening in the betting world with the tobacco industry, where research was funded that was "really just diverting attention from the real issue: smoking kills".
Carolyn Harris, the MP who chairs a parliamentary group on gambling-related harm, said moves to cut funding ties were "an acknowledgement by the medical profession that using this money goes against everything that they should be doing".
Meanwhile, a first-of-its-kind campaign has launched to try and help as many as 1m British women thought to be at risk of harm from gambling.
The campaign by GambleAware is specifically aimed at women and highlights the critical warning signs of problem gambling and where to seek help.
The charity revealed new statistics showing activity on gambling websites popular with women peaks in the winter months, with total average traffic between December and March up by 29 percent compared with the rest of the year.
Research suggested that two in five women experiencing high levels of gambling harm may not seek help due to the perceived stigma surrounding the issue.
GambleAware said losing track of time, spending more than was affordable and keeping gambling a secret were key warning signs.
The number of women receiving treatment for gambling has doubled in the past five years, up from 1,134 in 2015/16 to 2,423 in 2020/21, according to data from the National Gambling Treatment Service.
However, this only represented a fraction of those who are experiencing gambling harms, GambleAware said.
GambleAware chief executive Osmond said: "We are launching this new gambling harms prevention campaign at a time when there may be up to a million women at risk of gambling harms.
"Our research shows women may not be aware they are starting to experience harm from gambling or, may be worried about reaching out for support due to stigma or shame.”