Richard Graham, the Conservative MP for Gloucestershire, has called for the UK government to consider a gambling levy to help fund the research and treatment of problem gambling.
Writing on PoliticsHome, Graham stated that he will urge the government to report on the possibility of a gambling levy in an upcoming Ten-Minute Rule Bill. Noting the gambling industry’s gross profits of £14 billion, Graham argues that a levy could “generate significant revenue to fund a major independent research initiative, and more gambling clinics, like the new one in London and soon Leeds”.
Currently, the gambling industry pays a levy which raises around £10 to £14 million per year. The majority of contributions are made to the charity GambleAware, which asks that all companies who profit from the UK gambling industry donate a minimum of 0.1% of their annual Gross Gambling Yield (GGY).
However, while there is a levy in place, the size of contributions is voluntary. The conditions and codes of practice for UK Gambling Commission licensees simply state that operators must make an annual financial contribution to at least one organisation that researches problem gambling, develops harm prevention approaches and funds treatment. Graham believes that an increased, statutory levy would “speed up work on both prevention and cure”.
Graham is not alone in his call for a levy. The Scottish MP Ronnie Cowlan has backed calls in the Scottish Parliament for a one percent levy to be introduced, and for a gambling clinic to be established in Scotland. Nola Leach, Chief Executive of Christian Charity CARE, has also said that the government’s next step should be the introduction of a statutory levy on gambling companies.
In addition to calling for the levy, Graham has recommended “more action to protect the young from gambling advertising”, “stronger self-exclusion with real commitments from banks”, and to “embrace technology to protect more people” by using computer software designed to block gambling sites.
The past year has already seen the government and the Gambling Commission move to address some of Graham’s concerns. April saw the maximum bet on fixed-odds betting terminals slashed from £100 to £2, while gambling firms have agreed a “whistle to whistle” advertising ban that will mean no betting adverts are aired during live sports matches. The UKGC has also announced that from May, gambling operators will be required to complete identity and age verification checks before allowing customers to deposit, another move that aims to tackle underage and problem gambling.
The UKGC also recently touched on the issue of gambling operators’ charitable contributions in a consultation paper for its 2019 National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms. One of the proposals of the consultation was an amendment to the licence conditions and codes of practice, that would mean licensee’s contributions must be made to UKGC-approved bodies. This comes in light of a 2018 review that found some contributions were being made to organisations that did not fulfill the UKGC’s criteria.
Graham’s proposition would likely be met with opposition from the gambling industry. From 1 October 2019, the tax paid by remote gambling operators will jump from 15% to 21%, a move designed to offset the tax revenue lost by the reduction in bet limits on fixed-odds terminals. This significant tax hike, coupled with the overall tightening of regulation, could mean gambling operators are reluctant to pay an increased levy that result in a further hit to profits.
Whether the government will agree to Graham’s proposal remains to be seen, though it is certainly not out of the question. Mims Davies, the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, has said that a mandatory levy is possible if the current voluntary system does not meet the expected targets. As noted by Graham, with 430,000 adults and 55,000 young people addicted to gambling, in addition to a further 2 million at risk, the idea certainly has support from politicians, charities and members of the public.