The mental health director for NHS England has called for a compulsory levy on gambling operators to fund the treatment and support services for gambling addicts.
Speaking with The Guardian, Claire Murdoch criticised the current voluntary system that allows the industry to dictate how much they contribute to gambling treatment services and said that the uptick in online gambling during the Covid-19 pandemic has left the NHS to “pick up the pieces” of gambling addiction.
Murdoch, who previously criticised operators for running VIP or loyalty schemes and offering players free bet promotions, said that the industry’s voluntary contributions were a “drop in the ocean” and has called for more to be done, particularly as the NHS is struggling amidst the current pandemic.
She told The Guardian: “After seeing the destruction the gambling industry has caused to young people in this country, it is clear that firms are focused on profit at the expense of people’s health, while the NHS is increasingly left to pick up the pieces.
“In a year when the NHS has dealt with our biggest challenge yet in Covid-19, the health service’s psychologists and nurses have been treating hundreds of people with severe gambling addictions.”
She continued: “The gambling industry must take more responsibility, as the nation has come together over the last year to support the NHS, whether it be volunteering as vaccinators or showing their gratitude to staff.
“The bookmakers must also step up and agree to a mandatory levy to pay for dealing with the harms of problem gambling.”
Murdoch also highlighted how 750 people have been referred to specialist gambling addiction clinics since April 2020 and that the NHS is planning on opening more clinics across the UK because the organisation believes it’s only hit “the tip of the iceberg”.
Murdoch’s comments come as the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is currently carrying out its review of the Gambling Act 2005. As part of the review, major reforms could be coming to the gambling industry, including a potential ban on sports sponsorships, tighter rules on the design and paly of casino games, and the possibility of a new levy on the industry.
A DCMS spokesperson told The Guardian: “Our plans to update gambling laws build on our recent tough measures, including banning the use of credit cards, tighter age verification checks and cutting the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals.
“We’ve always been clear that should the voluntary system for supporting projects and services related to problem gambling fail to deliver necessary funding, all funding options would be considered, including a levy.”
Meanwhile, self-exclusion service provider Gamstop recently reported a record number of sign-ups to its service. According to the organisation, there was a 21% increase in the number of people self-excluding from gambling websites in February 2021, with the total number of people using the serving edging closer to 200,000.
Also this week, Southampton Football Club has extended its sponsorship agreement with operator Coingaming Group and its Sportsbet.io website by three years. Under the extended agreement, Sportsbet.io will remain Southampton FC’s main shirt sponsor.
The sponsorship was first signed last year and Southampton FC has stressed that Coingaming Group has “worked tirelessly” to create a “positive impact” in the club’s local community while highlighting the importance of safe and responsible gambling.
Coingaming Group’s work included the launch of its Listen To The Saint In You campaign during Safer Gambling Week, which saw Southampton FC players encourage fans to consider the risks of gambling.
In March, Coingaming Group donated its sponsorship to Southampton FC’s Saints Foundation charity, allowing the club to display the logo of its charity on its football kill during a match against Burnley. The operator also donated £10,000 to the charity, aiming to help raise awareness of the work the charity does in its local community.
David Thomas, the CCO of Southampton FC, said in a statement to CasinoBeats: “The team at Sportsbet.io have built a successful business by challenging convention and disrupting the market, but in a responsible way, and their approach to our partnership with them has been no different.
“In a short timeframe they’ve proven to be innovative, forward-thinking and extremely supportive of the club, our fans and the wider community, and we’ve welcomed the opportunity to develop and promote safe gambling messages together. As such they have become valued partners and we look forward to the next chapter together.”
Maarja Part, the CEO of Coingaming Group, added: “Our first season as Southampton FC’s Main Club Partner has already exceeded all expectations. We’ve been inspired by the passion of the club and its fans, and it was an easy decision for us to extend our partnership with the Saints for another three years.
“From the beginning, Southampton have been a perfect match for the fun, fast and fair way we do things at Sportsbet.io. We can’t wait to continue this journey with the Saints and we’ll be doing everything we can to support the team and its community into the future.”
News of the extended partnership comes several weeks after a Sky News report from last month claimed that English Premier League (EPL) clubs met at the end of March to discuss the future of gambling shirt sponsorships, and after English Football League (EFL) Chairman Rick parry warned that a ban on shirt sponsorships would be “catastrophic” for smaller clubs.