Previously regarded as one of the leading lights in international gambling regulation for its sensible, regulated approach to online gaming, the UK has been suffering from something of a crisis of confidence in recent months.
Those banging the anti-gambling drum have been increasingly vocal, with some quarters of the media getting behind their calls for tougher regulation. The slashing of FOBT limits to just £2, against the advice of the independent regulator, the Gambling Commission, shows that these arguments are cutting through – regardless of their merits.
The policy, announced by the Chancellor in his most recent budget, saw a cabinet minister resigning after it transpired that the implementation measures would be delayed for a year, in part perhaps to allow the gaming industry to make provision. With tens of thousands of jobs under threat from the decision, the government has discovered how challenging sweeping changes of this type can be.
With the bit still between its teeth, the Conservative government is still keen to demonstrate its ‘tough on gambling’ stance. But rather than returning to attack the industry, there now appears to be a different – more helpful – approach.
Rather than laying the blame at the door of gambling operators, the government is now planning significant investment in problem gambling services, to be delivered in partnership with the NHS, alongside a host of new measures from the banking sector.
According to press reports, Prime Minister Theresa May has instructed Health Secretary Matt Hancock to work on a programme of new problem gambling clinics, designed to address the needs of the minority of gamblers who suffer from addiction and other related issues. At the moment, there is only one facility of this kind in the UK, based in the Fulham area of London.
At present, treatment for problem gamblers has been funded through charitable organisations, which themselves rely on significant funding from the gambling industry. While the industry has been obliging in supporting these treatment programmes for a number of years, the latest move will see the government finally picking up some of the slack, as part of a wider investment plan for the NHS.
Of the £20.5 billion funding settlement, some £2.3 billion is to be spent on mental health, marking one of the most substantial investments from the UK government in mental health services to date. Part of this funding will be used to develop the new facilities, which in turn will ensure better national coverage for those with gambling issues.
According to GambleAware, the country’s leading problem gambling charity, the announcement of funding is a “very welcome development”, with the next clinic planned to open in Leeds as soon as April of this year.
Interestingly, the move comes against a backdrop of static problem gambling rates, and a broader trend of falling gambling participation in the UK. While the media and certain political factions are increasingly vocal, the statistics simply don’t corroborate their message.
Nevertheless, the planned investment is welcomed across the board, and will no doubt assist those elsewhere in the UK who feel they have developed compulsive or otherwise harmful behaviour around gambling.
The news comes alongside an announcement that UK banks are to introduce new systems to allow customers to self-exclude at a debit card level, effectively preventing them from spending on gambling transactions.