GWL letter turns heat on Sunak to reform RET duties

Gambling with Lives (GWL) has handed PM Rishi Sunak a letter signed by six mothers bereaved of their children by gambling-related suicide. 

The mothers handed the letter to the PM at Downing Street, accompanied by leading reformist Sir Iain Duncan Smith (MP), demanding that the “gambling industry should not control research, education or treatment” of problem gambling in the UK. 

The letter stated that their children were “misled by the gambling-industry-controlled narrative, and the government should put a stop to it to save lives.

GWL maintains its high-coverage campaign calling for “a total overhaul of UK gambling’s system” in which operators control how “information, research, education, and treatment” is provided/displayed to the public on gambling harms.

The campaign supports a drastic tightening of operator compliance demands on online casino wagers, player affordability checks and a ban on advertising – measures that the government’s Gambling Review considers.

Beyond regulatory measures, GWL states that the government must intervene in gambling’s research, education and treatment (RET) disciplines which should have no connection with the industry. 

GWL reaffirmed: “Bereaved families are calling for it to include a statutory levy on gambling industry profits, administered by an independent levy board led by the Department of Health, to pay for independent information, research, treatment, and education.” 

The mothers are asking to meet with Sunak to discuss their concerns and how a statutory levy could be implemented on gambling operators. 

Led by the Betting & Gaming Council (BGC), industry leadership has stated that UK gambling has no say on RET matters, which are overseen by GambleAware – an independent organisation which serves as the main commissioning charity for gambling harm RET funding.  

Year accounts for 2021/2022 revealed that GambleAware had received £35m in voluntary donations with 89% of funds contributed by UK gambling’s Big Four operators of bet365, Flutter Entertainment, Entain Plc and William Hill (888 Holdings). 

Responding to concerns about its dependency on gambling donations, GambleAware has previously reiterated its support for a 1% mandatory levy on GGY. Chief Executive Zoë Osmond underlined that it would remove inconsistencies in operator donations and provide a sustainable funding model to support RET projects and programmes.

Despite emphasising its independence from gambling, in April, the NHS withdrew its dual commissioning and funding arrangement with GambleAware. The charity has been denied from participating in developing the NHS nationwide clinics for problem gambling treatment, support and research. 

The decision was taken by senior NHS clinicians who cited the concerns of addicted patients who were reluctant to use services paid for by the gambling sector. 

The future of problem gambling’s RET funding and administration is regarded as the Gambling Review’s most controversial subject matter as the government looks to apply its pending reforms. 

Following consecutive delays, UK media outlets have reported that PM Sunak is determined to settle the Gambling Review as an early objective of his premiership. 

Last week, The Times reported that Sunak will demand ‘cabinet unity’ on measures such as credit checks, mandatory £2/£5 stake limits on casino games and tougher underage verifications on online gambling operators. 

Sunak is noted to have listened to the explicit concerns of senior NHS staff, who recently revealed that “599 patients have been referred to the service in the past six months, a 42% increase on the same period last year and up 65% from 2020-21”.  

The speculation was reaffirmed this week by DCMS Gambling Minister Paul Scully, who spoke at GambleAware’s tenth annual conference. 

Stating that the White Paper would be published in the coming days, Scully told audiences that the government had listened to the experts on the critical issue of preventing harm.

It remains to be seen whether the government will determine RET structures, a subject that has divided expert opinion and may require further regulatory evaluation beyond the White Paper. DCMS has warned industry leadership that the debate on gambling’s social impact will not disappear from the government’s agenda, irrespective of Gambling Review reforms.

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