03/07/2019 08:02 BST | Updated 03/07/2019 08:02 BST

Problem Gambling Devastates Lives And Families. This Is What We In Government Are Doing About It.

We need the gambling industry to do what it can to keep people from harm, and contribute much more to support those who do find themselves in difficulty, writes culture secretary Jeremy Wright

The Independent

For millions of people, gambling is a fun activity which they do responsibly and safely. However, problem gambling can devastate lives, families and communities. 

I have met people who have lost more than the UK’s annual average salary on credit cards during one night of gambling online. And parents who are now without a child as a result of gambling addiction. 

That is why we as a government are resolute in our commitment to tackling problem gambling and protecting the most vulnerable – and why Tuesday’s announcement is important. 

Five of the biggest gambling operators have agreed to increase their contributions tenfold from 0.1% to 1% of their gambling yield – essentially the money they make from customers – over the next four years. During that time they will spend at least £100million on treatment. This new money will transform the scale and level of support for problem gamblers. 

The five operators will work with my department, along with the Department for Health and Social Care and providers of existing support services, to determine how the additional funding can be best used. The companies will report publicly on progress with these commitments. 

I am pleased that just last week the NHS announced that they will expand clinics to treat people with the most severe and complex problems. Tuesday’s announcement will provide a very significant boost to wider treatment services to complement that important work.  

Since I came into office, I have been clear with the industry that I expect it to do much more to tackle gambling related harm and to create a culture of responsible gambling. 

Over the past few months, I have been in discussions with Bet 365, GVC, Flutter (formerly Paddy Power Betfair), Sky Betting and Gaming and William Hill. They have announced  a strong package, including a substantial lift on their financial contribution, as well as meaningful commitments in other areas to help ensure people gamble safely. 

The five operators have agreed that they will use online technology where it is available to keep gambling adverts away from  people showing signs of problem gambling behaviour. This will address concerns I have heard from some that when they are struggling to break free of their addiction, adverts have tempted them back.

The companies will increase responsible gambling messaging, and review the tone and content of their marketing. And finally, they will share more data to help protect problem gamblers from further harm. 

This builds upon previous commitments to ban advertising on TV during live sport before 9pm, and the funding of a new, multi-million pound responsible gambling advertising campaign, led by GambleAware.

Some people will ask why the government has not pursued increased contributions through a mandatory levy. The answer is simple - these commitments will ensure significant, additional funds are made available quicker than through new laws. It is more efficient, less costly and most importantly will get help to those that need it from this year, preventing further harm. However we reserve the right to pursue a mandatory levy if a voluntary one doesn’t prove effective. 

Some justifiable criticism has been laid at the door of the sector for dragging their feet on this issue. But I am pleased that some of the key players are now stepping up. We urge other operators to look at what they can do too. 

Since we published the Gambling Review in May 2018, we have worked closely with the Gambling Commission to introduce a wave of tougher measures to boost consumer protection. 

In particular, we acted to reduce the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals from £100 to £2. We have launched tighter age and identity checks for people who want to gamble online, and expanded national specialist support, including for children through the NHS Long Term Plan. 

The Commission is also carrying out a detailed investigation into the online casino sector which has seen multi million pound fines imposed on operators who have failed to prevent money laundering and keep consumers safe. In five cases, operating licences have been surrendered. 

We are making good progress but there is still more to do. We are looking at whether it is right that people should be able to gamble on credit cards, and the role high street banks can play by allowing customers to switch off the ability to make gambling payments.

But we need the industry to do what it reasonably can to keep people from harm in the first place, and contribute much more to support those who do find themselves in difficulty. 

This week’s funding boost and measures are therefore a big step towards protecting some of the most vulnerable people in our society. 

Jeremy Wright is Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport