The DCMS consultation on implementation of the research, education and treatment (RET) levy begins today, with the department projecting that £100m will be directed towards the NHS via the initiative.
One of the key recommendations of the Gambling Act review White Paper, the RET levy will be commissioned by the NHS with all mandatory operator contributions directed towards research, prevention and treatment of gambling harm.
This effectively means that the NHS has unseated GambleAware as the primary commissioner of RET funding. The current model sees GambleAware take voluntary donations from the industry, but the charity has been one of the biggest voices for a levy.
As cited by the NHS: “Under the proposed levy, the gambling industry will no longer have a say over how money for research, prevention and treatment is spent. Instead, the Gambling Commission will distribute funding directly to the NHS and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which coordinates research and innovation funding, under the strategic direction of the government.”
Although the charity seems to be set to be replaced by the NHS as RET coordinator, some of the GambleAware’s main talking points in favour of a levy have been echoed by DCMS.
Notably, the department highlighted the disproportionate range of donations between operators, citing that some firms pay ‘as little as £1 to research, prevention and treatment’.
The government aims to set the levy at 1% of gross gambling yield for online operators whilst betting shop and casino operators will pay less at 0.4%. This approach has been based on factors such as operating costs and the ‘levels of harmful gambling’ associated with the two respective sectors.
DCMS Secretary Lucy Frazer said: “We are taking the next step in our plan to protect those most at risk of gambling harm with a new levy on gambling operators to pay for treatment and research.
“All gambling operators will be required to pay their fair share and this consultation is an opportunity for the industry, clinicians, those who have experienced gambling harm and the wider public to have their say on how the proposed gambling operator levy should work.
“The introduction of this levy will strengthen the safety net and help deliver our long-term plan to help build stronger communities while allowing millions of people to continue to gamble safely.”
NHS practitioners underlined the importance of taking direct control of the Levy’s funding structure, needed to expand the network of specialist gambling clinics in the UK.
As planned, later this year the NHS will open new treatment support clinics in Milton Keynes, Thurrock, Derby, Bristol, Liverpool, Blackpool and Sheffield, as policymakers and public health practitioners target a ‘truly national approach‘ to prevention and research.
“We know that gambling addiction can devastate lives, which is why we are working quickly to implement our bold plans for reform,” said Stuart Andrew MP, Gambling Minister.
“This consultation brings us a step closer to being able to provide £100 million of new funding for research, prevention and treatment, including ring fenced investment for the NHS to help gambling addicts.
“Gambling firms should always pay their fair share and this new statutory levy will ensure that they are legally required to do just that.”
The announcement of the government’s plans for the levy and the opening of the consultation on this important area of the review comes one day ahead of the closure of the first round of consultations.
Topics explored so far have been finance risk checks (affordability checks), safe game design, in-venue age verification and improving consumer choice on marketing and cross-selling – but the levy consultation has been long-awaited by many.
Yet, the government’s plans to centralise levy funding with the NHS will likely cause conflict with third sector organisations and stakeholders which currently provide RET services.
Recent weeks have seen RET stakeholders such as Ygam and GamCare call for greater clarity on the issue. Meanwhile, the past two years has seen a divergence of opinions from various stakeholders from across the treatment landscape.
Prior to the announcement, Margot Daly, Chair of GamCare – the operator of the 24/7 National Gambling Helpline 24/7 – wrote to MPs demanding that levy funding be ringfenced to ensure the continued support of the third sector in providing frontline treatment of gambling harms.
Daly cited that funding was essential to support existing stakeholders as 90% of treatment and support for gambling harms comes from local third-sector organisations with robust community ties.
The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), representing the UK’s various bookmakers and casino operators, has already commented on the consultation. The trade body stated that it supports a levy, having already proposed such a move, but that it believes there should be some changes to the government’s plan.
Significantly, the BGC argues that a levy should apply to the National Lottery as well as to betting and gaming firms, stating that the lottery is ‘not immune to having problem gamblers gamble with their products like scratchcards and instant win games’.
A spokesperson for the BGC continued: “It must also be applied on a sliding scale, with smaller percentage contributions from land-based operators, including independent betting shops on our high streets that have struggled to recover after the pandemic and incur disproportionately higher fixed costs.
“There must also be adequate oversight to ensure levy funds are only distributed to charities and organisations delivering genuine RET services to ensure long-term, sustainable funding – including protecting existing third sector providers who are already doing vital work and who may now be at risk.
The BGC also noted that current industry donations, which it projects will reach £110m by March 2024, supports an ‘independent network of charities’ operating across the UK. These charities will likely be active participants in the forthcoming consultation, airing any potential grievances with the government’s plan.
In response to long-standing criticism by NHS bosses, GambleAware has outlined its support of a mandatory levy to ensure full transparency on RET funding, secured independently from the UK gambling sector.
As chief commissioner of RET projects and organisations, GambleAware has emphasised that its funding is overseen by an independent board of trustees, expert in public health and with no connection to gambling. Management of the existing levy, has seen GambleAware criticise UK operators as 2022 donations saw 90% of the contributions totalling £42m donated by the four gambling firms of bet365, Entain, Flutter Entertainment and 888 Holdings.
This has not stopped criticism of its perceived lack of independence from the gambling industry, however, and this debate will likely be reraised during the levy consultation, with DCMS and the Gambling Commission projecting that key White Paper measures could be in place by the summer of 2024.
NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch said: “The NHS has long called for a statutory levy because it is only right that this billion-pound industry steps up to support people suffering from gambling addiction and I am pleased that action is being taken to prevent people from coming to harm in the first place,”
“It is now vital we continue working in partnership to ensure we provide effective prevention, education and treatment for this condition.”