he UK's biggest gambling firms have agreed to contribute more money to fund treatment for problem gamblers. The owners of William Hill, Ladbrokes Coral, Paddy Power Betfair, Skybet and bet365 will increase their voluntary levy on gambling profits from 0.1% to 1% up to 2023 - a contribution of £60 million (USD 75.8 M). It will be "a step change" in how they tackle addiction, the firms claimed.
This follows criticism of the industry on how little it spends to help addicts compared with its marketing budget. Earlier this month, NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens warned betting firms could be taxed to pay for addiction treatment. He condemned the "fraction" spent by industry on helping those struggling with addiction, compared with the amount spent on advertising and marketing.
The companies said cumulatively they would spend £100 million (USD 126.3 M) on treatment over the next four years.
Peter Jackson, Chief Executive of Flutter Entertainment - the new holding company name for Paddy Power Betfair - said the agreement marked "an unprecedented level of commitment and collaboration by the leading companies in the British betting and gaming sector to address gambling-related harm," he told the BBC. "We think that is an important step to make. We do think we need to increase the amount of money that is available to protect the young and vulnerable."
Richard Flint, who left his position as Executive Chairman of Sky Bet last month, said before leaving the company: "The industry hasn't done enough to look after problem gamblers. We need to do more to self-regulate, and if we don't do more there will be more regulation forced upon us."
Marc Etches, Chief Executive of charity GambleAware, said: "We welcome this initiative by the leading operators as it's essential there is sufficient funding to provide for treatment and support for both problem gamblers and for those who are 'at risk' - particularly the young and vulnerable.”
The five firms have also agreed to increase safer gambling messages in their adverts and review the "tone and content" of their marketing and sponsorship material.
The Gambling Commission estimates there are 430,000 people with a serious gambling addiction in the UK. If those they deem at risk of addiction are included, the number rises to more than two million. Of these, around 55,000 are children and young people aged 11 to 16.
Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said the gambling industry had a responsibility to tackle problem gambling and contribute to the cost of treatment to rebuild the lives of those affected.
"We will monitor closely the progress of these new measures and encourage the wider industry to step up. The government will not hesitate to take further action to protect people from gambling-related harm."