Labour Proposes Bookmaker Tax to Pay for Problem Gambling Treatment

The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, suggested a new gambling levy would cover NHS costs and would help end the “destructive cycle of addiction”.

Tom Watson, Labour Party Deputy Leader

Tom Watson speaking at a Labour Party conference.

After recent revelations about the massive scale of gambling addiction in the UK, the Labour Party has vowed to tackle Britain’s “hidden epidemic of gambling addiction”. The latest proposal follows Labour’s suggestion for a ban on betting firm sponsorship on football shirts, and a pledge to reduce the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals from £100 to £2.

A recently released report by the UK Gambling Commission showed the UK had around 430,000 problem gamblers in 2015, up by a third over three years. Problem gamblers are defined by the commission as people who “gamble to a degree that compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits”.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, Mr Watson announced a review of the extent of the problem and the ability of the NHS to handle it.

He highlighted a recent report from The Guardian that suggests that the gambling industry is benefiting from targeting vulnerable gamblers.

“Can you imagine the uproar that would ensue if drinks manufacturers targeted members of Alcoholics Anonymous by selling vodka outside AA meetings? We wouldn’t tolerate that – and we should no longer tolerate the same pattern of irresponsible behaviour by some bookmakers.” Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

The latest proposal, to impose a compulsory hypothecated levy on the gambling industry to fund treatment, would replace the current system which asks operators to make voluntary contributions to the charity GambleAware to help pay for gambling addiction education, research and treatment. Gambling firms are currently contributing around 0.1 percent of their gross gaming yield – the amount taken in bets minus winnings – to the charity.

For their part, the Association of British Bookmakers claimed it would support an “evidence-based approach to helping problem gambling in the UK and would support Mr Watson’s idea of a review if it facilitated this”.

“We also would not oppose an appropriate, compulsory levy on the gambling industry to fund problem gambling treatment, as 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.” Spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers

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