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Gambling firms must act urgently on addiction

NHS should not have to meet costs of treating ill health caused by the gambling industry, insists mental health lead

Louise Prime

Friday, 17 January 2020

Companies that profit by nudging losing gamblers into even more betting must take urgent action to combat betting-related ill health, the NHS’s mental health lead has insisted. She told gambling companies they must not offer extra incentives such as VIP experiences and hospitality to lure problem gamblers, and must immediately restrict credit card payments for bets, and stop streaming live games.

NHS England pointed out that more than half of adults in England have gambled during the past year; NHS estimates show that about 400,000 people have a serious gambling problem in England; and the Gambling Commission classes more than two million people as ‘at risk’ of addiction. Against this, last year, the gambling industry in the UK raised £14.5bn in the UK – and the industry spends £1.5bn on marketing and advertising campaigns, which NHS England said “can make it even more difficult for people to escape gambling addiction”.

In addition, it said, 27 out of 44 top football clubs in England have a gambling company as their shirt sponsor; games in the FA Cup third round have been streamed by gambling firms using the ‘bet to view’ model and despite the recent backlash this is set to continue on further rounds of the FA Cup;  and other sports including rugby have faced criticism over similar bet-to-view practices.

In her letters to the heads of several major gambling companies Claire Murdoch, NHS mental health director, said the NHS should not be expected to meet the cost of treating problems caused by the gambling industry.

Betting firms have faced strong criticism recently for offering hospitality tickets, VIP treatment, and free bets to people who regularly lose large amounts of money – and they also offer ‘bet-to-view’ live streaming, which NHS England said “turns fans into punters by having to place a bet in order to watch sports games”.

The gambling commission has confirmed that later this year it will restrict bets placed by credit card, but Claire Murdoch yesterday demanded that gambling firms:

  • Immediately restrict bets placed by credit cards, before the gambling commission’s restrictions come into force later this year;
  • Ban the use of ‘VIP experiences’;
  • Stop streaming live games, all of which could make a major difference in helping people avoid building up debts and spending money they can’t afford.

Claire Murdoch said: “The links between the sporting industry and gambling are deeply disturbing, and the tactics used by some firms are shameful.

“It is high time sporting bodies get back to their roots and start focusing on fans and families enjoying watching their heroes play, rather than allowing firms to hijack sport in pursuit of profit.”

She added: “Our NHS Long Term Plan will see 14 gambling clinics there for people across the country as part of our annual £2.3 billion investment boost to mental health services, but the NHS cannot be expected to put out fires caused by other parts of society playing with matches, which is why we need the gambling industry to up its game.”

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