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Bishop of St Albans castigates betting industry in Lords debate

22 October 2021


THE betting industry seeks to blame “a small group of weak individuals” for the surge in problem gambling instead of accepting that their products are the cause, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, told the House of Lords last week.

Opening a debate on Public Health England’s evidence review of gambling-related harms, he highlighted the difference in approach which it identified between commercial and non-commercial stakeholders. “Commercial stakeholders thought the focus should be on intervention and treatment rather than on creating a safer gambling environment,” he said.

“It wanted to blame a small group of weak individuals, who we should sort of pity and give a bit of support to, instead of actually acknowledging that many of these products are designed to be addictive right from the start.”

In many cases of gambling-related suicides, operators, “far from attempting to intervene on behalf of a gambler’s welfare, are still actively encouraging the person to gamble. Right up to — indeed, sometimes after — the person has died, they are receiving calls and offers of free gambling.”

Dr Smith said that the gambling industry should pay for the harm that it caused. Currently, the Government relies on the “good will” of gambling companies to pay a voluntary levy of £100 million over five years towards research, education, and treatment.

Instead, he argued, there should be a mandatory levy of one per cent of gross gambling yield, which would raise about £150 million annually. “Furthermore, it would remove the industry’s control over the disbursement of funds for research, treatment, and education, and break the link that makes many academics unwilling to accept funding, because their research won’t be taken seriously.”

The review suggests that gambling should be considered as a public-health issue, which, Dr Smith said, “implies we need a public-health approach. This won’t be achieved by relying on the good will of profit-driven gambling operators to intervene. What is required is a firm line on affordability checks to prevent those individuals who are susceptible to harm from depositing unaffordable amounts, alongside a comprehensive network of intervention and treatment.”

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