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At the Labour Party conference, the party’s deputy leader Tom Watson said that if they formed the next government they would introduce legislation to force gambling operators to pay a levy to fund research and NHS treatment to help problem gamblers deal with their addiction. This is something which I wholeheartedly support and is also something that I have been calling for myself for over a decade.
The most recent statistics on gambling participation by the Gambling Commission in August 2017 reported that 63% of the British population had gambled in the last year and that the prevalence rate of problem gambling among those aged 16 years and over was 0.6%-0.7%. While this is relatively low, it still equates to approximately 360,000 adult problem gamblers and is of serious concern.
At present, the gambling industry voluntarily donates money to an independent charitable trust (GambleAware) and most of this money funds gambling treatment, with the remaining monies being used to fund education and research. In the 12 months prior to March 2017, the gambling industry had donated £8m, an amount still 20% below the £10m a year I recommended in a report I wrote for the British Medical Association a number of years ago.
A statutory levy of 1% on all gambling profits made by the British gambling industry would raise considerably more money for gambling education, treatment and research than the £8m voluntarily donated last year and is the main reason why I am in favour of it.
Gambling has not been traditionally viewed as a public health matter. However, I believe that gambling addiction is a health issue as much as a social issue because there are many health consequences for those addicted to gambling, including depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraine, and other stress related disorders. This is in addition to other personal issues, such as problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, neglect of family, and bankruptcy.