NHS criticisms of the UK gambling industry increase

A dramatic shift up in gears has occurred in relation to the NHS’s criticisms of the gambling industry in advance of the UK government’s forthcoming review of the Gambling Act 2005.

This follows recent comments made by NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens, who described adult gambling behaviour statistics published within the Health Survey for England in December 2019 as “a stark reminder of how common gambling is in our society, and how easy it is to become addicted”. That choice of words was surprising, not least because the NHS survey data contains no data on gambling addiction; to the contrary, it contains some encouraging signs that gambling industry efforts to address gambling-related harms are taking effect.

Following on from that, an NHS England press release published today summarises as follows the content of a letter sent yesterday (15 January 2020) by NHS National Mental Health Director, Claire Murdoch, to the Chief Executives of bet365, Betfred, GVC Holdings, Flutter Entertainment and William Hill:

NHS Tells gambling giants to improve the odds for mental health

The head of mental health care in England has written to the heads of top gambling firms, demanding urgent action to tackle betting-related ill health.

NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch has ramped up pressure on companies to take action, following reports that gambling giants continue to nudge losing punters into more betting.

The NHS has recently opened new gambling addiction clinics to stem the tide of betting-related ill health, as part of its Long Term Plan for the health service.

Reports have found that firms are offering hospitality tickets, VIP treatment, and free bets to people who regularly lose large amounts of money.

The major intervention from the NHS follows heavy criticism of gambling firms across the country and in parliament during the scandal of ‘bet to view’ football streaming, which turns fans into punters by having to place a bet in order to watch sports games.

The gambling commission has confirmed plans to crack down later this year on bets placed by credit card while another powerful technique reportedly used involves delaying people from withdrawing their winnings, increasing the possibility of re-betting and potentially losing any gains.

In a letter to industry chiefs today, Claire Murdoch calls on gambling companies to:

  • Immediately restrict bets placed by credit cards, before the gambling commission’s restrictions come into force later this year;
  • Ban the use of so called ‘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.

Over half of adults in England have gambled during the past year and NHS estimates show around 400,000 people have a serious gambling problem in England.

NHS mental health director 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 focussing on fans and families enjoying watching their heroes play, rather than allowing firms to hijack sport in pursuit of profit.

“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.”

Specialist services to tackle addiction and the mental ill health that excessive betting can cause are being rolled out across the country as part of a £2.3 billion package of measures in the NHS Long Term Plan.

Last year, the gambling industry in the UK raised £14.5 billion in the UK whilst the Gambling Commission classes more than two million people as ‘at risk’ of addiction.

The gambling industry also spends £1.5 billion on marketing and advertising campaigns, which can make it even more difficult for people to escape gambling addiction.

27 out of 44 top football clubs in England have a gambling company as their shirt sponsor, and this week there has been an outcry following games in the FA Cup third round been streamed by gambling firms using the ‘bet to view’ model.

Despite the backlash, gambling firms are to continue streaming games for future rounds in the FA Cup.

Other sports, such as rugby, have since come under criticism for similar bet to view practices with the gambling industry.

Both the NHS press release and Claire Murdoch’s letter to Kenny Alexander CEO of GVC (that is in the same form as the letters sent to the other companies’ CEOs) can be downloaded below.

Betting and Gaming Council Chairman Brigid Simmonds has immediately sent a letter in response (that can also be downloaded below) that reads as follows:

15 January 2020

Dear Claire

Thank you for your letter to the Chief Executives of GVC, Flutter, William Hill, BetFred and bet365 regarding gambling and mental health.

We take our responsibility to our customers incredibly seriously and we are determined to raise standards and improve safer gambling. The points that you raise are important. Just some of the work our members have already done includes new age-verification checks, increased funding for research, education and treatment, introduced a whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling advertising, worked together as an industry to create GamStop which will now be mandatory for all operators, created monitoring algorithms to monitor play both online and in retail to help identify those at risk of harmful play and just last week waived exclusivity on FA Cup games. We are also working on affordability checks, AdTech to block adverts and calling on search engines to block adverts from non-UK licenced operators advertising using help search terms.

We have also announced Safer Gambling Commitments which represent a set of measures to deliver long-term and fundamental changes in how gambling companies are run in the UK and how they empower, protect and support their customers. The five core safer gambling Commitments are targeted to: Prevent underage gambling and protect young people; Increase support for treatment of gambling harm; Strengthen and expand codes of practice for advertising and marketing; Protect and empower our customers and; Promote a culture of safer gambling.

We are currently working with a range of stakeholders on safer gambling initiatives therefore it would be good to understand in greater detail your experience, knowledge and concerns and how we may address them.

On behalf of the Chief Executives I would very much like to invite you to meet with us at the earliest opportunity to discuss your concerns, what we are doing to raise standards in our industry and to ensure safer gambling.

My office will be in contact with you to find a date to meet at the earliest opportunity.

Yours sincerely

Brigid Simmonds OBE