The annual exercise in wringing charity contributions from gambling groups is in full swing-Update

UK Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe has published a consultation document that could be the first step in turning a voluntary contribution to problem gambling charity R.I.G.T. (Responsibility in Gambling Trust) into a mandatory donation.

After months of delays by some large gambling groups in making the 2008 -2009 donations, the Minister says that Britain's gambling industry now faces a compulsory GBP 5 million pound ($7.3 million) a year levy for research into problem gamblers unless it funds the present voluntary scheme, Reuters reports.

Sutcliffe's document discusses how to collect the levy in a consultation process that closes on March 31 and proposes the levy begins from June 1, 2009 set at GBP 5.3 million for the 2009/10 financial year and rising to GBP 7 million for 2011/12.

"If the industry can agree the improved voluntary arrangements in the meantime the door is not closed, but time has almost run out," Sutcliffe said.

Since 2002 operators have been contributing voluntarily to fund research, education and treatment of problem gambling in a scheme administered by the R.I.G.T.

In the past two years the funding target has only been met very late in the financial year, while this year the shortfall is estimated at GBP 1.2 million, the government said earlier (see previous InfoPowa report).

A spokesman for Britain's largest bookie group, Ladbrokes, said the company would be active in the consultation process and hoped that an agreement could be reached for the money to continue to be raised through a voluntary system.

"We already make a contribution to RIGT voluntarily and have done since its inception so, financially, it won't have much bearing on us either way," the spokesman explained. "We would like to see it continue as a voluntary system and will continue to work to achieve that, but we accept that a statutory system may well come into place."

Ladbrokes, which has about 2 100 shops in the UK, said one difficulty in achieving a voluntary resolution is that the issue has fallen down the list of priorities for some smaller operators, because of challenging economic conditions.

"We're more than happy to pay our fair share and maybe even a bit more, but not to the extent that we're massively subsidising competitors," the Ladbrokes spokesman said.

Last year the UK Gambling Commission recommended an improved voluntary payment scheme to guarantee funding over the next three years.

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