Campaigners urge UK ministers to toughen proposed measures on problem gambling

Anti-gambling campaigners have called on the government to go further to address problem gambling as ministers finalise a package of measures aimed at tackling the issue.

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries is set within days to announce measures including a maximum stake of between £2 and £5 for online casinos, and a ban on free bets and VIP packages for gamblers who have incurred heavy losses.

Ministers are also trying to persuade the Premier League to stop football clubs from allowing gambling companies to sponsor their shirts. If the clubs refuse to do so, the government will legislate to ban the practice, according to officials.

The package, first reported in The Times, will also include measures to help high-street casinos “level the playing field” with online rivals by allowing them to install up to 80 gaming machines rather than the current 20. But campaigners urged the government to impose tougher curbs such as a new levy on gambling profits, which had been under consideration by ministers.

Charles Ritchie, co-founder of the charity Gambling with Lives, which supports people bereaved by gambling-related suicide and whose son took his own life after becoming addicted to gambling, said: “A statutory levy on gambling profits is the only way to end the industry’s harmful influence over gambling treatment, information and research. Our politicians need to know that a failure to take strong action will lead to thousands more suicides over time.”

Zoe Osmond, chief executive of charity GambleAware, called reports that the mandatory levy on the industry had been rejected “concerning”, adding: “Gambling must be addressed as a serious public health issue, with a consistent, sustainable and long-term funding model in place.”

Tracey Crouch, a Conservative MP and former culture minister, said she had seen only the leak of the plans rather than the actual review. “Based on that . . . I suspect many will feel disappointed with the seemingly watered-down proposals to tackle the challenges within gambling,” she added.

Meanwhile, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory party leader, said: “I think they need to go further.”

One government figure said the package of measures struck the right balance, given that ministers wanted to help problem gamblers without responding in an overly draconian way. Downing Street did not want to become a “nanny state” for all gamblers, they added.

The gambling industry, which employs 119,000 workers in the UK, said problem gambling affected only a small minority of customers. “The number of punters using the unsafe, unregulated black market has doubled in recent years to 460,000 and the amount being bet is now in the billions,” said the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC). 

“The white paper will have to balance the need to protect the vulnerable and those at risk, whilst not driving the millions of people who enjoy a bet perfectly safely to the black market,” it added.

A gambling industry insider said the limit on online stakes would have a “direct, immediate financial impact” on betting companies, although he said much of the effect of dropping the limit on online stakes to between £2 and £5 had “already been priced in”.

Problem gambling fell from 0.4 per cent to 0.2 per cent of gamblers in the year to March 2022, said the BGC. But Public Health England — since replaced by the UK Health Security Agency and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities — estimated last year that 409 suicides were linked to gambling in England every year.

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