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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Jon Ungoed-Thomas

UK betting firms ‘must pay more’ to help high-risk gamblers

Checking a bookmakers website on a smartphone
Checking a bookmakers website on a smartphone. Photograph: Ian Dagnall/Alamy

Britain’s gambling industry has more than tripled its annual donations over two years to a charity that combats gambling harms, as it campaigns against calls for a statutory levy on betting firms.

More than 680 firms donated £34.7m to the industry-funded GambleAware charity in the year to 31 March 2022. This compares with voluntary donations from the sector of £19m the previous year and £10.05m in 2019-20, according to the charity’s figures.

While the industry hopes a rise in donations will help to fend off calls for an annual statutory levy, some of the betting firms sanctioned by the regulator for failing to protect high-risk gamblers donated no cash to the charity in the past financial year, or small amounts compared with their revenues.

The Malta-based firm Genesis Global was fined £3.8m in December for social responsibility failings, including allowing an NHS nurse to gamble £245,000 in three months. The firm did not donate to GambleAware in the year to 31 March 2022 and gave just £6,000 the previous year, according to the charity’s disclosures.

Campaigners consider the funding regime is not generating enough money to combat gambling harms and the distribution of the funds is not sufficiently independent.

Liz Ritchie, co-founder of the charity Gambling with Lives, said: “Gambling companies pay what they want when they want and can withdraw funding for health information, research or treatment they’re not happy with.

Gambling on a roulette machine
Gambling on a roulette machine. Photograph: Islandstock/Alamy

“An independently administered statutory levy will ensure many more resources are available to prevent and treat this devastating illness and … free from the influence of the very companies causing that devastation.”

The four biggest gambling companies, Entain, Flutter, William Hill and Bet365, have pledged to pay 1% of their gross gambling yield – which are the retained revenues after payment of winnings – for gambling prevention and treatment initiatives by 2024, but many firms make limited donations.

Zoë Osmond, chief executive of GambleAware, said: “GambleAware has been consistent in calling on the government to introduce a mandatory levy of 1% [of gross gambling yield] on the gambling industry as a condition of licence. We welcome the commitment from the ‘big four’ operators to increase their donations.

“However, the continuing uncertainty and inconsistency in the current funding system has a detrimental impact on services and fails to provide any organisation working to mitigate gambling harms with any level of long-term income to invest in critical prevention and treatment services.”

The Betting and Gaming Council, which represents the industry, says there has already been effective action to reduce problem gambling and a statutory levy is not required. The Observer revealed last week that major betting firms warned the Treasury that the crackdown on the industry called for by campaigners could drive gamblers to the black market. A government white paper on gambling reforms is due to be published shortly.

A spokesperson said: “The Betting and Gaming Council’s largest members have already pledged an additional £100m of funding between 2019 and 2023 for research, education and treatment services to be administered by the independent charity GambleAware. Operators are free, however, to direct their annual financial contribution to any of the Gambling Commission-approved organisations and not just GambleAware.”

Genesis Global did not respond to a request for comment.

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