Senior UK Doctors Demand Gambling Levy

March 14, 2022
The UK National Health Service’s most senior gambling addiction experts are calling for operators to pay a new multi-million-pound statutory levy to help prevent and treat problem gambling.


The UK National Health Service’s most senior gambling addiction experts are calling for operators to pay a new multi-million-pound statutory levy to help prevent and treat problem gambling.

The call will add to pressure on the government to take action after the NHS last month turned its back on voluntary funding from the gambling sector.

Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones, the director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, and Dr Matt Gaskell, clinical lead for the NHS Northern Gambling Service, have proposed the creation of a new independent health board to oversee the spending of levy money, which could come to tens of millions of pounds a year.

In a paper for the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think-tank, the clinicians say the board should be led by the Department of Health, not the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).

The government should also set a clear target for reducing gambling-related harm, cutting it by half in five years, the paper says.

The authors write: “The current voluntary system has no integration of NHS services, no consistency in funding decisions, no independent evaluation of long-term impact or regulation via the Care Quality Commission, no coordinated oversight from research councils over research into harm, and serious questions have been asked about the independence of this voluntary system from the influence of the gambling industry.”

The paper argues that current arrangements for industry support for addiction services are failing badly.

At present, some gambling companies make voluntary contributions to approved service providers, with the bulk of their money given to a single charity, GambleAware.

NHS England in February severed its links with GambleAware due to concerns over the group’s perceived connection to the gambling industry.

The legal power to impose a levy on the gambling industry has existed since 2005, but has never been used, as successive governments have trusted the industry to support harm-reduction work voluntarily.

The SMF paper sets out a detailed analysis of how that approach is failing victims of gambling-related harm and must be replaced, claiming that:

  • The DCMS has resisted repeated calls from a wide range of expert stakeholders to introduce a statutory levy.
  • The current voluntary funding system lacks consistency, transparency and accountability.
  • Significant funds in excess of £100m have been pledged by the largest gambling operators to provide treatment services, but these funds are not being distributed in a fully independent or efficient manner.
  • A long-term strategy of prevention and recovery is not properly integrated within the framework for the funding of research, education and treatment.
  • At present, there is no clear target for harm reduction.

The paper comes as ministers prepare to unveil a long-awaited review of the UK’s gambling laws.

Last week, the minister in charge of gambling policy said reform was “long overdue” and promised the government’s Gambling Act review white paper would be published “very, very soon”. Gambling minister Chris Philp warned lawmakers are backing “significant reform”.

Dr James Noyes, senior fellow at the SMF and co-author of the paper, said: “The government’s benchmark of success for the voluntary system has been undermined by the fact that the industry reneges on its own funding pledges. No system which relies on the good will of the industry can be called truly independent.

“The current system is broken, and lacks consistency, transparency, and accountability.”

He said the Gambling Act review white paper was a unique opportunity to fix the system.

The largest members of the Betting and Gaming Council have already pledged to spend £100m on research, education and treatment of problem gambling, and contribute to a range of charities to support research, education and treatment.

A spokesman said previously: “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."

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