Government Fails to Back Mandatory Betting Levy

Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, has spoken out against the government for not backing a mandatory levy on betting companies in order to increase funding for the protection and treatment of problem gamblers. He has accused it of “dragging its heels” after the Minister for Sport, Mims Davies, contradicted the Gambling Commission’s claim that the voluntary levy was not working, and its suggestion that a mandatory betting levy should be imposed.

Despite her refusal to listen to the Gambling Commission’s advice, Davies still says that she expects the gambling industry to make “faster progress” on combatting harm caused by gambling and betting. She said: “Protecting people from harm should be at the heart of every gambling business. Addiction can ruin lives and it is vital that those who need help are given the right treatment at the right time.”

Mims Davies speaking at a podium.

Mims Davies, Minister for Sport and Civil Society ©gov.uk

Watson has said: “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 […] Both the regulator and the industry agree that the current levy system needs to change to increase the level of support, but true to form, this government is dragging its heels.”

There is currently an agreed voluntary levy of 0.1% of total revenue to be given by all bookmakers, bingo halls, and online betting companies to charity. This was part a deal struck with the last Labour government in 2007 when it deregulated gambling. Last year, the Gambling Commission began to ask companies to reveal their donation amounts publicly, after many failed to pay the suggested amount. Both Tom Watson and the Gambling Commission have argued strongly ever since that a mandatory levy is necessary, with Watson stating: “Bookies pay lip service to responsible gambling, but they aren’t doing enough to address the UK’s hidden gambling epidemic. It is now clear that legislation is needed to force them to pay their fair share. Words are no longer enough.”

The current discussion regarding the mandatory levy has been sparked by GVC’s decision to do more to protect problem gamblers, including putting an end to sponsorship on football shirts and TV adverts. This goes against the company’s previous behaviours and the actions of others in the industry. The company’s chief executive, Kenny Alexander, has urged others in the betting and gambling industry to follow in GVC’s footsteps. While the industry currently has plans for a pre-watershed “whistle to whistle” ban on gambling ads, Alexander’s proposal goes much further by suggesting a total ban on all gambling adverts attached to sports broadcasts (except for horse racing).

”While the vast majority of our customers enjoy our products responsibly, it is high time that the industry did more to protect its customers from potential harm. As the UK’s largest gambling company, and owner of Ladbrokes and Coral, we at GVC are doing exactly that.”Kenny Alexander, Chief Executive, GVC

As part of the same initiative to discourage problem gambling, GVC has also said that it will end all sponsorship deals that promote its brand on football shirts or pitch-side adverts. This will be a big change for the company, which currently sponsors the shirts of both Sunderland and Charlton football teams. It is hoping that the change will “allow fans to watch their favourite teams without seeing any incentives to bet”.

GVC has also pledged to put 1% of its gambling revenue into treatment projects, as well as research and education, by 2022, which is ten times the current amount suggested by the voluntary levy. The company has exceeded the 0.1% donation in previous years too. Bill Moyes, the chairman on the Gambling Commission, said earlier this week that hard cash was needed through a mandatory levy to increase funding from £12m to at least £70m annually. However, the sports minister continues to insist that the current voluntary system is working. Many are surprised and outraged by the government’s refusal to listen to the advice of the Gambling Commission, which is responsible for regulating all gambling in the UK.

Ronnie Cowan of the Scottish National Party has spoken out on social media, saying, “At the launch on the gambling commissions report & disappointed to hear that the U.K. government have still not decided to apply a statutory levy to raise money for gambling-related harm. The gambling commission is supporting it. Why won’t the government? #reducinggamblingharms”. In the same vein, the Bishop of St Albans has called the government’s decision “extraordinary and surprising”.

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