On 23 February 2020, the Sunday Times published an article entitled “Gambling charity ‘censors’ addicts in chatrooms” in which it stated as follows in relation to GamCare:
Britain’s leading gambling charity, which is funded by the industry, has censored addicts on its forums who lobby against the predatory behaviour of betting firms.
The online forums of Gamcare, which bills itself as “the leading national provider of free information, advice and support for anyone affected by problem gambling”, bans posts calling for reform of the industry.
Parents of gambling addicts who have taken their own lives said the charity should have spoken out about predatory marketing and supported stricter controls.
“The Gambling Act 2005 is failing to protect vulnerable people” wrote one forum user, who posted a petition calling for reform. It was removed by online moderators.
Comments calling for more controls on gambling were redacted or removed.
The forum rules say users must not post comments or links that “lobby against gambling industry services or promote political lobbying against the gambling industry”. The charity says the forum is for support, not for campaigning.
The article went on to quote Simon Thompson (formerly interim chief executive at Gamcare) as saying that Gamcare “should have been shouting from the rooftops about the dangers of gambling” and apologising to parents of gamblers who had died “for not doing more to highlight the risk from addiction”.
It also quoted GamCare as saying:
Gamcare provides support and treatment to those affected by problem gambling. Our services, including our forum, are for support and not for campaigning. Our new Safer Gambling Standard is a robust accreditation process to assess operators’ standards of customer protection and to drive standards up across the industry. Accreditation is not guaranteed . . . The treatment of problem gambling . . . is funded through Gambleaware, an independent charity funded by a voluntary levy from the gambling industry . . . Gamcare supports around 40,000 people harmed by gambling each year.
The criticism of GamCare provoked understandable shock amongst those who appreciate the invaluable support and treatment services that the charity provides to those affected by problem gambling. By way of example, Paula Murphy of KnowNow Limited wrote as follows:
Last Sunday, the Sunday Times published an article attacking GamCare! Yes, GamCare! You know – the charity who helps thousands of people suffering with gambling related issues and provide initiatives like the Safer Gambling Standard designed to promote industry best practice and raise standards for customer protection.
What was their heinous crime? Well they moderate their forum to ensure it is a place where those who are suffering harm can go to gain support. Where the focus is firmly on helping them deal with their problem. This means that the rules of the forum state that users must not post comments or links that lobby against gambling industry services or promote political lobbying against the gambling industry. Any such posts are removed in line with these rules and the goal of giving people help when they need it.
Surely I can’t be the only one left scratching my head wondering how on earth such a story can be deemed newsworthy or how people can think that undermining an organisation like GamCare puts them on the side of the angels. OK, I know that is a flippant remark to make but it feels like this is where we are headed. Any kind of common sense, collaboration, understanding or evidence is in danger of being thrown out of the window in favour of an “if you are not with us, you are against us” mob mentality.
GamCare has published its following full response to the Sunday Times article:
GamCare provides support and treatment to those affected by problem gambling. Our services, including our Forum, are for support and not for campaigning.
Our new Safer Gambling Standard is a robust accreditation process to assess operators’ standards of customer protection and to drive standards up across the industry. Accreditation is not guaranteed. GamCare can and will revoke accreditation where failings are identified.
Fundamentally, the treatment of problem gambling in Great Britain, by GamCare and other organisations including the NHS, is funded through GambleAware, an independent charity funded by a voluntary levy from the gambling industry. That funding allows us, and others, to effectively and safely treat people affected by gambling harms. GamCare supports around 40,000 people harmed by gambling each year through our Helpline and treatment services.
- The GamCare Forum is a safe and secure space for users (who may be gamblers or their partners, friends and family) to share experiences, thoughts and feelings about gambling.
- The GamCare Forum has around 2,000 regularly active users.
- The purpose of the Forum is to help and support those affected by gambling problems, and as with all GamCare activities, it is not a space for campaigning.
- The role of our moderators is to provide additional support to our users and to safeguard those who may be particularly vulnerable.
- The way our team moderate posts is in accordance with our longstanding Chatroom and Forum etiquette.
- These guidelines are informed by our collective experience of working with people affected by gambling problems and includes feedback from our users.
- This includes starring out the name of individual gambling operators, as users have told us this can trigger difficult emotions that do not contribute to maintaining recovery.
- We are not a campaigning organisation, nor is the Forum a space to organise political action. We direct users to the GOV.UK website if they would like to organise petitions etc.
- We maintain dialogue with users wherever we have removed specific content or on the rare occasions where we have suspended accounts in breach of our guidelines, in order to help them understand our Forum policies.
- On those rare occasions, all our other support services remain available to those users.
- GamCare is currently commissioned to provide support and treatment by GambleAware, as part of the National Gambling Treatment Service.
- GambleAware raises funds from the gambling industry and others who receive profit via gambling across the UK.
- There is currently no statutory mechanism for funding specialist support and treatment for those affected by gambling.
- There is no alternative funding available, and therefore GamCare works within the existing system to provide valuable support and treatment, which would otherwise not be available.
- We also receive funding for specific risk reduction programmes through independent fundraising, for example our Women’s Outreach Programme is funded through grants via the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
- GamCare is an independent charity. Donations are vital in extending the reach and impact of our work to minimise gambling-related harm.
- From 1 January 2020 operators must direct their annual financial contribution for gambling research, prevention and treatment as required by LCCP SR code 3.1.1 to one or more of the organisations on the list at: https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/for-gambling-businesses/Compliance/General-compliance/Social-responsibility/Research-education-and-treatment-contributions.aspx
- GamCare is one of the approved providers on this list.
Safer Gambling Standard Accreditation
- The Safer Gambling Standard is a robust accreditation scheme which pushes operators beyond the requirements of their Licensing Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP).
- The Safer Gambling Standard replaces previous GamCare Certification.
- The Safer Gambling Standard sets out requirements for gambling operators licensed by the Gambling Commission to establish and evidence safer gambling culture and customer protection measures.
- There are five operators accredited under the new Safer Gambling Standard and these are listed at https://www.safergamblingstandard.org.uk/accredited-businesses/.
- No operator is guaranteed accreditation – they have to fully evidence that they meet or exceed the requirements of the Standard in order to achieve accreditation.
- A number of other charities and non-profits provide a kitemark to drive up standards in their relevant sectors.
- All fees paid are used to further support our work to minimise gambling-related harms.
It is to be hoped that, as the UK gambling debate progresses once the forthcoming Government review of the Gambling Act 2005 has commenced, critics of the industry will choose their targets in a more careful and considered manner.