A new model for funding RET must not risk third sector charities, or our independent bookies

The Government has recently announced a consultation, seeking views on a new statutory levy on betting operators of all sizes, to make further changes to how we provide Research, Education and Treatment for problem gamblers and tackle gambling related harm. But the reality is, the industry is already donating millions, supporting the frontline charities delivering this vital work.

When the Betting and Gaming Council was established in 2019 one of the first things we did was to work with our members to increase significantly contributions to Research, Education and Treatment (RET) services to tackle these issues under the current voluntary levy arrangement, with funds independently administered by GambleAware. To be clear, this voluntary levy has existed for over two decades. However, our largest members recognised it required more financial muscle, and pledged an additional £100 million over four years.

Those members have gone further and will have donated £110 million by March 2024, helping to sustain and protect a mature, interwoven and highly skilled network of third-sector RET providers, who boast decades of experience in this field.

Rates of problem gambling remain low and stable, at approximately 0.4 per cent of England’s adult population according to the most recent NHS Health Survey. But when people do struggle, it is often this network which comes to their aid. Indeed, around 85 per cent of all problem gamblers receiving treatment in Great Britain are treated by the third sector.

Contrary to the claims of anti-gambling campaigners, our members have no say on how these funds are spent and RET donations only go to independent organisations accredited by the Gambling Commission to deliver these critical services.

The BGC was in favour of moving from the current voluntary levy to a mandatory one to provide the financial certainty charities need. Indeed, we proposed this to the Government ahead of the White Paper, published in April.

We do have some concerns however, about the current consultation. We have never been in favour of a blanket approach which ignores the diversity of our membership with some members having disproportionately higher costs such as betting shops, bingo halls and casinos. And we believe it should apply to all operators including the National Lottery, without affecting the good causes it supports.

The National Lottery’s contribution to GambleAware over the last three years has been approximately 0.01 per cent of their annual Gross Gambling Yield (GGY). This equates to an average donation of around £440,000 each year on GGY of around £3.5 billion. While our members contributed in excess of £50 million between 2022/23, it seems absurd they should get a free pass when it comes to funding RET.

And while the new proposed levy does include a sliding scale, as the BGC called for, we are concerned about the impact on independent betting shops on hard-pressed high streets, which have struggled to recover after the pandemic and incur disproportionately higher fixed costs like staff and premises.

Under the current proposal Adult Gaming Centres, which also operate on the high street, will be expected to pay 0.1 per cent. That will be a bitter pill to independent bookies which have similar costs but are expected to contribute four times more.

They have told us that this disproportionate impact will likely result in staff losses and could see some independent bookies close. Their concern is real, around 160 independent bookmakers have closed since 2019, a reduction of 23 per cent.

While we don’t have any say over how this money is currently distributed and nor do we seek one under the new statutory levy, we are however concerned about the future of funding for a network of over 120 third-sector problem gambling treatment centres and many educational programmes that could be put at risk from proposals contained in the Government’s consultation.

Currently NHS clinics mainly treat those who are classed as disordered or addicted gamblers, a much smaller subset of problem gamblers, with the vast majority of problem gamblers receiving counselling and support from third sector charities, which have a very high success rate.

Those charities include GamCare, with over 200 staff members, who have delivered over 38,000 structured treatment sessions between 2022/23. Or YGAM who have reached two million youngsters with educational material about the dangers of problem gambling. Or Gordon Moody which operates the country’s only residential care centre for women problem gamblers. I had the pleasure of attending it’s opening, it is an excellent example of the work already being done by dedicated professionals with years of experience.

Under the consultation, the vast majority of funding, between 40-60 per cent, will go to the NHS, which is currently treating less problem gamblers than the third sector. Meanwhile, 10-20 per cent will go to research and 15-30 per cent on prevention and education.

This new funding model must protect the third sector, these are the experts, they should have the sustainable funding for their long-term future, or the levy will no longer be fit for purpose. Instead, it will be a hypothecated tax to raise funds for the NHS at a time when many Conservative MPs have said they would oppose new taxes.

Our mission to raise standards and tackle problem gambling and gambling related harm endures and is backed by significant financial contributions. Any new levy which replaces the current set up must sustain this vital work, not undo it. As we move to a new model for funding for RET, we cannot risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater. That’s the message we will take to Government.

Brigid Simmonds OBE, Betting and Gaming Council Chairman

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