Labour Wants Problem Gambling Treatment on NHS With Betting Companies Footing the Bill

Deputy opposition leader Tom Watson told the Labour Party Conference in Brighton this week that a Labour government would introduce a special levy on betting companies to fund NHS treatment for problem gamblers.

Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson at Labour Party Conference

Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson laid into the gambling industry during his speech at the Labour Party conference but the industry has said it would not oppose his plan for a compulsory levy. (Image: Heathcliffe O’Malley/Telegraph)

Labour will initiate a review of gambling addiction in the UK, and of the current provision for treatment on the NHS, while assessing “the feasibility of making the gambling industry pay a compulsory levy to fund NHS treatment and help lift problem gamblers out of the destructive cycle of addiction,” said Watson.

It’s time to “finally confront problem gambling,” he added.

ABB Would Not Oppose Levy

Following the speech, the Association of British Bookmakers said it would not oppose an “appropriate” compulsory levy.

“We have long argued that the gambling industry needs to work together to reduce the number of problem gamblers and address the fact that most problem gamblers move between different forms of gambling,” it said in an official statement.

But Watson complained that the gambling industry in the UK contributed just $8 million to GambleAware, which funds education and treatment services, despite generating £13 billion in gross gaming revenue (GGR) last year.

That $8 million was a record haul for GambleAware but it still fell short of its $10 million funding target. The charity has asked that gambling companies voluntarily donate 0.1 percent of their gross gaming revenues to the cause, something they have failed to do.

The Right Thing to Do

“My message to gambling firms today is clear: stop targeting vulnerable people. Start acting properly. And meet your obligation to help those whose lives have been blighted by addiction,” said Watson.

“You can do it now, because it’s the right thing to do. Or you can wait for the next Labour government to do it for you.”

Watson repeated claims that bookmakers deliberately target the poor, an accusation they deny, as well reiterating that Labour would slash the maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals from £100 to £2 per spin, as outlined in the party manifesto earlier in the year.

The government is expected to publish the results of a review into the controversial machines next month, which is expected to recommend some movement on maximum stakes, although £2 is considered unlikely. Bookies argue that such a move would be a body blow for the retail betting industry, resulting in the closure of hundreds of shops and the loss of thousands of jobs.

GambleAware, meanwhile, applauded the tone of Watson’s speech, underlining that it was “woefully short” of the necessary funding to treat the UK’s problem gamblers.

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