Gambling Commission chairman calls on NHS to take gambling seriously

Gambling Commission chairman Bill Moyes is featured in a Health Service Journal opinion piece published today under the heading “The NHS must take gambling seriously” in which he echoes some of the principal themes set out within the Commission’s new National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms.

Amongst other things, he says that:

  • the NHS “lacks the kind of knowledge that it ought to have” about gambling addiction,
  • there is a need for “quite a lot of work” to “tease out” what part the NHS should play in tackling gambling addiction and how that is applied in “the clinic, surgery [and] trust”,
  • he hopes to focus Public Health England on “what works, what pattern of care should we engineer in this country?”, including trying to analyse “what kind of interventions are appropriate in which circumstances and to get a sense of what is cost effective”,
  • “we’ve got to understand the economic impact of gambling harm and we’ve got to try to get some balance between what we spend on that and intervention, prevention and treatment. I think there’s also quite a lot of work to do to find out what kind of messaging works”, and
  • “I think the message we are trying to get across to companies and to government is we are breaking new ground, we don’t know everything by any means, [and] that’s why we are placing a lot of emphasis on evaluation. So, try this, work out what good would looks like, measure it, test it, if it’s not working do something else”.

On the question of funding for gambling harm services, he says:

  • “this [gambling harms] strategy will play out over a decade or more, and for it to be really effective you have to have the right kind of funding and a sustainable level of funding so people on the ground can plan”,
  • “our [i.e. the Commission’s] position is that the government has the powers to introduce a statutory levy [on the gambling industry] and we think they should now give that some thought – but if they’ve got better ideas, fine” and
  • “whatever system of funding we introduce has to be capable of flexing over time to meet the need in the system.”

The article adds, perhaps encouragingly from the industry’s perspective, that “despite [the] call for a new funding route, Mr Moyes does not appear to want a heavy-handed regulatory approach from government and within an industry much less affected by politics, his stance ….. carries [an] anti-interventionist thread”.

Other comments within the HSJ article that might be of particular interest to UK licensed gambling operators include the following:

  • Mr Moyes is all for a “vibrant” but “well-regulated” gambling industry. However, he says the public have now “begun to take very seriously the damage gambling addiction can do”, including its potential to “wreck families and careers”;
  • As result, the Commission chair suggests “politicians” want to see changes that result in “an industry where people can enjoy [themselves], have a flutter, but not an industry where people suffer serious harm from which they cannot recover”;
  • The current approach from ministers to the new gambling harms agenda is “pretty much what [he] was hoping for” on the basis that they are “taking an interest, questioning us, challenging us at the right time”, adding that government is “giving out a message that says this [gambling addiction] is a problem which cannot be ignored, but not pretending there’s a recipe which can just be put on the ground, and just do that and get on with it”.

The HSJ article can be downloaded below.

FOOTNOTE: The Daily Record, a Scottish tabloid newspaper reported on 19 May 2019 (in an article entitled “Scots MP challenges bookies to pay more to help gambling addicts after voluntary scheme flop”) that “Inverclyde MP Ronnie Cowan has written to Bet365, Ladbrokes, William Hill, BetFred and Paddy Power to get them to support mandatory payments to help fund addiction charities”. It quotes the following extract from his letter:

As one of the big five bookmakers who operate in the United Kingdom, you have a responsibility to your customers to ensure gambling-related harm is minimised and those at risk supported. GambleAware, who are funded through the voluntary levy, have created two National Problem Gambling Clinics in England. I am keen to see a similar clinic set up in Scotland. I would be grateful to know whether you support the introduction of a statutory levy to fund education, research, treatment and support relating to harm caused by gambling.