Labour plans to make betting firms pay levy to treat gambling addiction

Labour will force gambling companies to pay a levy to fund research and NHS treatment to help problem gamblers deal with their addiction.

Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, said that if elected the party would “finally confront problem gambling”.

He accused betting firms of greedily and deliberately “targeting our poorest communities” to line shareholders’ pockets.

Watson said it was outrageous that the gambling industry drew in £13bn a year in revenue but contributed just £10m to treatment of gambling addiction that destroys lives.

“I can tell you that a Labour government will introduce a compulsory levy,” Watson said in a speech to the Labour party conference in Brighton on Tuesday.

“We now know that when vulnerable people try to opt out of online gambling, companies don’t always block their accounts as they should,” he said.

“Gambling companies are even harvesting data to deliberately target low-income gamblers and people who have given up.”

More than 2 million people in the UK are either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction, according to the industry regulator, the Gambling Commission, which has warned that the government and industry are not doing enough to tackle the problem.

A Gambling Commission report estimated that the number of British over-16s deemed to be problem gamblers had grown by a third in three years, suggesting that about 430,000 people suffer from a serious habit.
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Watson said it was about time that gambling addiction was treated seriously as an illness, and said he would launch a review of the problem and current NHS treatment.

“My message to gambling firms today is clear: stop targeting vulnerable people. Start acting responsibly. And meet your obligation to help those whose lives have been blighted by addiction,” he said.

“You can do it now, because it’s the right thing to do. Or you can wait for the next Labour government to do it for you.”

A spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers said the gambling trade body supported “an evidence-based approach to helping problem gambling in the UK and would support Mr Watson’s idea of a review, if it facilitated this”.

He added: “We also would not oppose an appropriate, compulsory levy on the gambling industry to fund problem gambling treatment, as we have long argued that the gambling industry needs to work together to reduce the number of problem gamblers and address the fact that most problem gamblers move between different forms of gambling.”

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