Leading Conservative gambling campaigner welcomes betting companies’ voluntary commitment to help addicts
UK gambling operators’ new voluntary proposals are to be applauded – but funds must be channelled through an independent delivery body to ensure absolute transparency, says Lord Chadlington
The decision by five of the largest UK gambling operators to commit to a package of safer gambling measures is very welcome news.
Cynical voices may argue that it really is about time for action, that the companies are just frightened of punitive legislation or increased public opprobrium but the reality is that this is a major and voluntary step in making the British gambling industry the most respected in the world.
Look at the facts. A tenfold increase in the financial support for safer gambling by raising the current voluntary level from 0.1% to 1% of Gross Gambling Yield by 2023 and maintaining that level in the future. From these five companies this will produce approximately £60m a year for Research, Education and Treatment (RET) and if the rest of the industry followed their example we would see up to £150m per annum.
Over the next four years, the companies have committed to an injection of £100m into the treatment of problem gamblers with the medium term aim of quadrupling the number in treatment from 2.5% to 10%.
This is a significant commitment. To make it a reality, the companies are entering into a consultation period with the Department for Health and Social Care, the NHS and other providers to ensure that funds are used in the most effective manner.
But for many of us, it has been advertising and promotion which has led us to questions about the current state of the gambling industry. In this response, I warmly welcome their agreement to review their advertising strategy after the trial period of the whistle to whistle advertising ban which starts next month. They will look at content, tone, and safer gambling messages.
Technology is also bringing advantages. The companies will build on their use of multi-operator self-exclusion schemes like GamStop and MOSES by sharing data but within GDPR guidelines. They will also support any technology which enables them to divert advertising messages away from problem gamblers.
'This is a major and voluntary step in making the British gambling industry the most respected in the world'
In their assurance statements to the Gambling Commission, they will annually report on their progress on these commitments including the payment of the tenfold increase to 1% of the voluntary levy.
Fundamental to this initiative is that, for the first time, these funds can be used to carry out the detailed, long term research which must be the bedrock of education and research. We will also be able to see what initiatives are working and to what degree.
Perhaps most important this may provide a longitudinal survey which can help track gambling numbers across all demographic and age profiles over a five or 10-year period. We should, therefore, be able to get a real handle on long term trends.
And this raises an important issue.
For notable academics to undertake research, it is essential that these funds are funnelled at arm’s length to the research companies – completely independently of the gambling industry. The same is true of the priorities in treatment, of the education programmes and which charities benefit from the funding.
So, while I welcome these voluntary proposals, the funds must be channelled through an independent body or bodies, with all decision taking away from the gambling companies and the industry as a whole and with absolute transparency.
Accepting the argument that it has been a long time coming, this could generate over £500m – maybe much more – in the next 10 years for research, education and treatment. And if a suitable independent delivery method can be found, we are probably on the way to making our gambling industry one of the safest in the world.
So we should applaud these five companies for a courageous and generous move forward and also congratulate the constructive role the Secretary of State and the DCMS played in making it happen.
Lord Chadlington is a Conservative peer