Gambling companies are set to be hit with a new Government levy under plans that consider diverting some of the proceeds to the NHS. The new gambling white paper is expected to include proposals for a compulsory contribution to treatment programmes for gambling addicts, standardising the payment to ensure that no firms can exploit potential loopholes in their obligations by paying insignificant sums. The expected levy, revealed by the Mail on Sunday, comes just days after betting giant William Hill was fined a record £19.2million by the industry watchdog for failing to protect its customers from accruing unpayable debts.
All operators with a UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) licence under the current rules are required to make an annual contribution “to one or more organisation(s) which deliver research, harm prevention and treatment for those harmed by gambling”.
But without a specified, standardised contribution, companies have been paying varying amounts.
Whitehall officials have said the “playing field needs to be levelled” and that this disparity must be urgently addressed by making the payment standard and obligatory.
The Gambling Commission will launch a consultation on the scale of the levy and how it will be tailored to companies’ differing profits and revenues imminently.
The NHS refuses to accept voluntary contributions from the companies to fund treatment services, arguing that it is a conflict of interest but an effective “gambling tax” would circumvent this issue.
A Government source said: “The gambling white paper will be the most comprehensive review of betting laws in more than 15 years.
“Its purpose is to ensure that our gambling laws are fit for the digital age – because the landscape has changed significantly since the Gambling Act in 2005.
“The plan is to give people the choice and freedom to gamble responsibly, while preventing addictive and harmful gambling. One of the main ways will be through the introduction of a new levy.
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“A new statutory levy could directly fund the NHS to expand treatment services for gambling addiction to ensure people have access to the services they need, when and where they need them.
“Many researchers will not accept voluntary funding from [the gambling] industry. The independence of research funded by it has been called into question. The levy would therefore provide long-term, reliable funding, including for the NHS.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, however, is alleged to have objected to the levy when he was chancellor of the exchequer over concerns that it would be tantamount to running a “nanny state”.
A source said Mr Sunak does not want to look as if he is “in favour” of the new nanny state taxes on businesses.
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They added that the Prime Minister also had reservations about the implications a new tax levy on betting firms would have on his constituency’s Catterick racecourse, as well as the impact it could have on the National Lottery.
Mr Dugher – a former Labour MP and one-time Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – lauded the levy, however, saying that he “supported” the notion of a mandatory tax.
He said it was “important” to “help the tiny minority” of gambling addicts who would benefit from the support.
He also accused the anti-gambling prohibitionists of “masquerading their biased work as ‘research’”.