A recent report published in the British Medical Journal called for a radical overhaul of the Gambling laws, including a mandatory tax on the industry to fund addiction treatment.
The BMJ said that the economic cost of gambling-related harm had been “significantly underestimated” and pointed to research that linked betting addiction to suicide. It called for a new Gambling Act that would ensure the industry took responsibility for reducing the gambling problem.
The authors of the report include academics and specialists from the UK and Australia. They highlight a concerning lack of funding, with just £1.5m spent in the UK last year on the prevention of gambling harm, that’s about 2p per capita. In comparison, New Zealand spent 100 times more per capita.
With an estimated 430,000 problem gamblers in the UK and just one specialist NHS clinic for gambling addiction, it’s clear the problem is not being tackled head on.
The report comes amidst growing calls for a new mandatory tax on the gambling industry to fund addition treatment and prevention. The proposed system would replace the current system under which the gambling industry pays a voluntary levy of 0.1% of their revenues.
However, this voluntary levy does not seem to be working successfully as last year the gambling industry failed to meet this 0.1% by more than 4m, with reports that some firms paid nominal sums such as £5 or £1.
The labour party and the Gambling Commission have joined GambleAware in calling for a mandatory levy at a higher level, potentially more than 70m a year.
Dr Heather Wardle is assistant professor at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the paper’s lead author. She said: “Gambling harms have been vastly underestimated. It is placing major burdens on resources, relationships and health.
“The time now is for action to reduce harms which is going to require a much more significant level of funding than is currently available. We believe that a compulsory levy on industry is the only way to achieve this.”
The paper also suggested measures to limit the “scale and sophistication” of the industry’s marketing activity, as the industry currently spends more than £1.5m annually on marketing, predominantly through social media platforms.
According to the report there are currently 33m active online gambling accounts in Britain and the prevalence of online gambling has grown exponentially form less than 1% of the population in 1999 up to 9% in 2016.
The paper also highlights the effect gambling has on children, as 14% of children 11 to 16 have gambled in the past week, with around 55,000 reporting problems from their gambling behaviour.
Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader, has been a constant, strong voice speaking out on the issue and said: “Problem gambling ruins lives, and hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are suffering due to gambling related harm. That’s why Labour has called for a new gambling act and a statutory levy on gambling companies to fund support for problem gamblers, and I’m pleased that this report supports those recommendations.
“But this government is still dragging its feet, wilfully ignoring the recommendations of experts and even its own appointed regulator. The government should act now to enforce a statutory levy to prevent and protect against problem gambling.”