British government to step in on the question of gambling problem treatment funding

The UK MailOnline this week reports that the British government is about to step in on the question of problem gambling treatment funding in the absence of meaningful voluntary contributions from UK-licensed and mainly land operators.

Industry chiefs have been warning their corporate colleagues for months that unless they open their purses in support of organisations like the Responsibility in Gaming Trust (RIGT) they risk the danger of a compulsory government levy, and according to the Mail's report this now appears imminent.

Thus far in the current year, gambling firms have apparently contributed only GBP4.5 million towards the treatment of problem gamblers - far short of the GBP 19 million over three years which the government is now apparently gearing up to impose.

Ministers, who have also warned operators of the consequences of underfunding problem gambling measures, have now put plans in motion to impose a statutory levy with a probable launch date of April 2009.

The funds thus accumulated will be used for both public education and research purposes, as well as the treatment of the addiction.

Gerry Sutcliffe, the minister responsible for UK gambling policy, confirmed to the Mail that the Government was preparing the ground to introduce legislation. He said that Prime Minister Gordon Brown believes that gambling companies should bear the brunt of the cost of research under the 'polluter pays' principle.

And in a letter to the regulating Gambling Commission, Sutcliffe said: "I am disappointed that the industry has not, as yet, been able to reach an agreement [on the level of voluntary contribution]. I must now, as a matter of contingency planning, institute the process for putting in place a levy which would come into effect the next financial year.

"We are running out of time if a levy is to be avoided. Nonetheless I very much hope that the industry will find a way to come forward with an immediate and firm commitment."

The Mail report quotes statistics from recent Gambling Commission surveys, which found that 7 percent of young people - about 975 000 - could be classified as having gambling problems, while 14 percent, or 1.9 million, may be at risk.

The survey recommended treating gambling as a 'potential public health issue' alongside drinking, smoking and obesity.

Brian Pomeroy, chairman of the Gambling Commission, is quoted in the Mail's report as saying: "Unless these issues can be resolved within the next few weeks, we believe there will be little alternative but to recommend a levy to Parliament to secure the research, education and treatment needed to minimise the harm from gambling."

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