NHS Demands Urgent Action to End ‘Vicious Gambling Cycle’

  • The head of mental health services in England sent a letter to five of the largest betting firms
  • Calls for these companies to stop targeting vulnerable people through VIP programs
  • Urges a ban on sporting events being livestreamed when a wager has been placed
  • Betting and Gaming Council has acknowledged these concerns and is willing to discuss them
NHS logo on a building
Claire Murdoch, the head of mental health services in England, has written to five of the largest gambling firms, demanding urgent action to address problem gambling. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Five gambling firms contacted

Claire Murdoch, the NHS national mental health director, has written a letter to five of the largest gambling firms, demanding urgent action to address problem gambling. 

She believes that people’s mental health is being severely affected by their issues with gambling. Her letter calls for the likes of special treatment for VIP players to be banned to end the “vicious gambling cycle”.

sent to the chief executives of Flutter Entertainment, GVC Holdings, bet365, BetFred, and William Hill

Murdoch’s letter was sent to the chief executives of Flutter Entertainment, GVC Holdings, bet365, BetFred, and William Hill. It was also sent to the chief executive of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) and the chair of the Betting and Gaming Council.

Murdoch has concerns that vulnerable customers are actively being targeted by these companies. She addressed these concerns in her letter to the gambling firms, stating: “I am concerned that offering people who are losing vast sums of money… free tickets, VIP experiences, and free bets, all proactively prompt people back into the vicious gambling cycle which many want to escape.”

Calls for restrictions

As well as banning VIP offers that reward gamblers with free tickets to sporting events, cashback, and free bets, Murdoch has also called on betting companies to stop live streaming sporting events. 

Many betting sites only allow events to be streamed if the account holder has placed a bet on that specific event. Accusations have been made that this turns casual sports fans into gamblers, as they must gamble to watch.

The UKGC is currently investigating a deal that allows seven betting operators to stream FA Cup games. 

Link between sports and gambling

Murdoch says that the close links between the sporting world and the betting industry are “deeply disturbing”. She has labeled some of the tactics used by these gambling firms as being “shameful”.

She has called on sports organizations to go back to their foundations and focus more on families and fans who love watching their team or favorite athlete play. This is in contrast to trying to milk as much profit out of sports as possible. 

Currently, 27 of the 44 teams that play in the top two soccer leagues in England are sponsored by a gambling company.

Murdoch highlighted that £1.4bn ($1.83bn) of the gambling industry’s £14bn ($18.29bn) annual profits are spent on advertising. This means that even gamblers who are trying to stop are inundated with gambling adverts.

Overwhelming response

There was an overwhelming response to this letter from a number of groups and individuals in the gambling space.

Former police officer Alex Macey, who lost about £250,000 ($326,684) as a result of his gambling addiction, said it was vital that the NHS released this message. He believes that gambling is deeply linked with mental illness.

The Betting and Gaming Council, which represents most gambling operators in the UK, said that it is committed to making the gambling sector a safer space. 

It noted how it has brought in improved checks for age verification, as well as a ban on betting companies advertising during a sporting event. The organization has said that it is willing to have a meeting with Murdoch to discuss her concerns. 

Gambling addiction treatment

There has been a lack of resources for problem gamblers in England for many years. This is set to change, with 14 NHS clinics planned across the country to help people who are addicted to gambling. The first of these clinics is in London, which will help people as young as 13 years old.

14 NHS clinics planned across the country to help people who are addicted to gambling

It has been estimated that approximately 430,000 people in England have a significant problem with gambling. 

Gambling charity GamCare received 9,049 calls to its helpline in 2019, an increase of 9% over 2018. Online gambling was an issue for over half of the people who made these calls. An NHS survey also showed that more than half of all adults in England gambled at some point in 2018.