The RET levy debate – much needed reform or a ‘recipe for disaster’?

Reform advocates have been calling for the implementation of a mandatory levy for RET contributions – a further curveball for the government review of the UK gambling industry to address.

The enforcement of a mandatory levy is backed by the Northern Gambling Clinic’s lead clinician Dr Matt Gaskell, the Social Market Foundation (SMF) thinktank and its Senior Fellow Dr James Noyes.

As the lead organisation providing RET grants, GambleAware has also supported a compulsory mandate, pointing to disparities between voluntary contributions from operators – however, the use of these contributions  has prompted criticism from Dr Gaskell and the SMF of GambleAware’s independence from the industry. 

In a deleted tweet, Dr Gaskell prompted some backlash, including from BGC CEO Michael Dugher, by stating that the industry funds RET organisations ‘in the knowledge it does nothing to affect their profits or rates of harm in the current climate’. 

 

To gain insight into the dynamics of how RET funding is used, the performance of  the current model and potential improvements,, SBC reached out to Jordan Lea, Founder and CEO of Dealmeout, which coordinates education and awareness activities in Wales. 

In Lea’s viewpoint, a mandatory levy would do more harm than good. He explained: “A levy, proposed in the current format would be a recipe for disaster not only for current organisations, meaning a number of the essential prevention organisations will at best have limited service, and at worst cease to exist, but also to the service users who rely on those services.”

Firmly placed in the review’s public spotlight, RET funding has been critical in the expansion of gambling harm treatment and support services such as GamCare’s problem gambling helpline, Gordon Moody’s localised treatment support and YGAM’s youth education operations, in support of NHS services. 

A levy following Dr Noyes and Dr Gaskell’s proposals – who Lea observed have both ‘questioned treatment and education existence entirely’ – would ‘no doubt put RET back to the dark ages of the mid-2010s’. 

Further implications would see the proposal lead to job losses and a likely ‘third sector funding exodus’, especially for smaller lived experience-based organisations that play a ‘vital role in prevention and treatment’.

“It is important to remember there is no easy fix to gambling addiction, one size doesn’t fit all. We should be encouraging funding for organisations that deliver Peer support,” he continued.

“Aftercare and preventative education, not threatening their existence by making funding only available to government bodies, universities and local authority. 

“Ministers should consider the impact a levy will have on the third sector, and the incredible work that has been implemented by each and every organisation. We do not want to lose world leading services so some can give the industry a bloody nose.”

RET funding is critical to providing the UK’s current treatment services, Lea reiterated, whether coming via GambleAware’s grants or through direct industry contributions.

Providing an overview of the UK’s treatment network, Lea pointed to the activities of groups such as Dealmeout, YGAM, the NHS gambling treatment services and EPIC Risk Management.

He added: “The UK has, without doubt, the greatest treatment and prevention services in the world. Funds can be provided on projects, or as core funds for organisations approved by the gambling commission and sufficiently regulated by the Charity and CIC regulators, with further compliance measures being needed for LTD companies.”

That is not to say, however, that there are no downsides to the current model of funding – which Lea observed ‘should be addressed’ – notably, as highlighted by GambleAware, there ‘remains an inconsistency’ to operator contributions.

“It’s extremely difficult, especially for smaller organisations to plan when you have no idea when money will come in, or how much,” Lea continued. “There is also a mammoth disparity between organisations.

“Most operators assume GambleAware funnels their enormous donations down to other organisations, But in reality this just sits within GambleAware accounts. In truth, CEOs in the smaller organisations are still looking down the back of their couch to find salary payments for their teams much of the year.

“If funds were offered across the board, and didn’t sit in large charity accounts, this wouldn’t be a problem, there is more than enough to go around, and include many other organisations like the NHS, and the campaign groups if they wish to join and the commitment to further funds from the industry is welcome.”

The responsibility does not just fall on those providing the financial backing, however, as Lea detailed, stakeholders ‘need to do more, especially in understanding the prevalence of gambling related harm’. 

“There is a distinct lack of research and collaborative work from research and academics and this needs to change,” he added. 

“Personally I would love to see collaborative submissions of work evaluated by academics presented to all stakeholders at a conference contracted within application to the RET list. 

“An Annual RET conference would be an excellent opportunity to ensure collaborative working and provide an opportunity to scrutinise work, ensuring organisations aren’t standing still.”

Referencing the recent UKGC report that the UK’s problem gambling rate had declined to 0.2%, Lea maintained that RET organisation’s ‘need to work hand in hand’ with the regulator in order to truly understand the prevalence of the issue. 

He concluded: “Whilst the drop in the Commission’s percentage to 0.2% is an easy win for RET organisations, I do not believe for a second the prevalence is that low. Phone surveys cannot be the answer, however outreach within RET organisations can be.”

The future of RET funding will likely be seen as the difficult last hurdle for the review to clear, noting the disparities on the strategic direction for treating gambling harms and addictions.

Whatever the outcome of the review, industry observers would be wise to re-examine the fallout on RET duties, as to how treatment of problem gambling became the review’s most divisive subject matter.

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