The UK government has been criticised for its decision not to back the introduction of a mandatory gambling levy.
Speaking at the launch of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, Bill Moyes, Chairman of the Gambling Commission, said that a mandatory levy is needed to generate “hard cash” for increased funding of research, education and treatment of gambling addiction. Moyes stated that such a levy should generate at least £70 million a year, up from the £10-£12 million raised under the present system.
Moyes said that “We cannot continue to have an approach where GambleAware or other commissioning bodies have to rely upon uncertain and unpredictable voluntary funding streams […] I want to be very clear about the view the Commission takes. The current levels of funding come nowhere near to addressing the real needs.”
However, Mims Davies, Minister for Sport and Civil Society, disagreed. According to Davies, the current system in place “does work” and “continues to have support from government and industry.” Under the current levy, contributions are compulsory but the size of contributions are down to the discretion of gambling operators. The bulk of contributions are made to the charity GambleAware, which asks all operators to donate a minimum of 0.1% of their annual Gross Gambling Yield.
Davies has come under fire for her support for the current system. Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, was particularly critical, accusing the government of dragging its heels and stating that “It’s outrageous that this Tory government is ignoring its own statutory adviser’s call for a mandatory levy on gambling companies to fund support for problem gamblers.” Labour has been calling for a mandatory levy for a number of years.
Davies’ comments will also be met with disappointment from members of her own party. Richard Graham, MP for Gloucestershire, recently asked the government to report on a potential levy in a Ten-Minute Rule Bill. In the bill, Graham said there is a need for “immediate and deep investment in research to analyse the extent of gambling addiction”, and that a levy could fund new clinics and rehabilitation centres.
The government’s rejection of a levy also drew criticism from Scottish MP Ronnie Cowan, who claimed he was “disappointed” and questioned why the government is going against the advice of the Commission. Cowan has previously called for a 1% statutory levy and for a gambling addiction clinic to be established in Scotland.
The calls for a mandatory levy come as the industry faces increasing pressure to tackle problem gambling. The industry has already made several changes in response to public concern, including a reduction in betting limits on fixed odds betting terminals, a whistle-whistle advertising ban during live sports matches, and new identity and age verification measures designed to protect gamblers. However, while these preventative measures are positive moves for the industry, many believe a levy is required to fund further research and treatment for gambling addiction.
GVC Holdings, an industry giant that owns the likes of Ladbrokes and bwin, recently pledged to donate 1% of revenue by 2022, 10 times the current contribution requested by GambleAware. Kenny Alexander, GVC CEO, also announced that the group would support a total ban on sports betting adverts, except for horse racing, as well as ending sports club sponsorship deals.
While it appears that the government has no current plans to investigate a potential levy, the issue is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Davies has said that a statutory levy “remains on the table” if the required targets are not hit under the current system. Richard Graham also told TopRatedCasinos that he hopes to get a second reading of his Bill and that this will encourage the government to take action.