A surprise decision by UK betting companies to redirect £100 million of funds set aside for tackling problem gambling has raised concerns that they have too much influence on this area of funding.
Leading UK companies Bet365, William Hill, GVC, SkyBet and Flutter originally made a pledge last summer to donate the money, in response to suggestions that a 1% mandatory levy should be imposed on their income to fund gambling charities. Following the announcement, the firms seemed to have agreed to direct the money through Action against Gambling Harms (AGH), which is a charity founded by Lord Chadlington to identify appropriate recipients and hand out grants.
But in a surprise move, the industry trade body the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) announced earlier this month that the funds will instead go to the GambleAware charity.
In response, gambling harm experts have sent an open letter to culture minister, Oliver Dowden, and to the health secretary, Matt Hancock, saying that this decision underlines the need for a statutory levy on the gambling sector to ensure funds are made available. The group of over 40 addiction experts and academics say that a mandatory levy is essential, and that the money raised through the levy should be distributed to independent bodies such as the National Institute for Health Research:
“Irrespective of which organisation funds are given to, the BGC’s announcement exemplifies the long-standing weakness of a funding system that allows the gambling industry to regulate the availability and distribution of vital funds to address gambling harms.”
According to reports in the UK media, the AGH was caught off guard by the move. Last December, they published an update stating that the five gambling firms had asked Lord Chadlington to put together a committee to administer the funds. But in a response to UK newspaper the Guardian, the BGC said that their members had decided to divert the money to GambleAware over concerns about the AGH’s ability to oversee the fund allocation.
In response, politicians in the UK parliament have expressed concern about the industry’s influence over the destination of the funding. On Tuesday, the Lord Bishop of St Albans submitted a written question in the House of Lords asking for an explanation and details of any government involvement. And Carolyn Harris, the Labour MP, who leads a cross-party group of MPs focusing on gambling industry reform, said that the change raised questions over the independence and integrity of the research and other work that will be done with the money.