Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday backed demands for betting firms to immediately end ‘shameful’ incentives that lure punters into a ‘vicious cycle’.
Throwing down the gauntlet to bookies, he urged them to scrap aggressive tactics that are fuelling a mental health crisis.
Mr Hancock said it was ‘absolutely right’ of the NHS to warn that taxpayers could no longer pick up the pieces of lives wrecked by gambling. He backed calls for a ban on ‘bet-to-view’ sports, pervasive advertising, free bets and VIP experiences for big spenders.
His intervention came as:
The outcry comes a week after the Mail exposed how FA Cup games are streamed live on betting websites to any fan with an account as part of a £750million deal.
On Wednesday, NHS mental health chief Claire Murdoch wrote to all major gambling companies saying the health service should no longer be expected to ‘put out the fires’ they start.
Gambling addiction costs the NHS up to £700million a year. The health service has recently opened 14 problem gambling clinics as part of a £2.3billion investment in mental health.
Mrs Murdoch is calling for an end to cashback incentives and VIP deals that see high-loss customers lavished with perks.
She also wants an immediate end to aggressive advertising, credit card betting and bet-to-view live streaming of sport. The practices have all been exposed by the Daily Mail’s Stop The Gambling Predators campaign.
Yesterday Mr Hancock backed Mrs Murdoch’s demands, stating: ‘There are three actions that we’ve asked them to take, all set out very clearly.
‘Gambling-related harm is a growing priority of the NHS.
‘Betting companies need to do more to prioritise the mental health impact of problem gamblers. I strongly support the work that Claire Murdoch is doing to insist that betting companies do what is necessary.’
Ministers are reviewing the 2005 Gambling Act and are widely expected to tighten the rules governing how bookmakers operate.
But campaigners say betting firms should not wait for legislation and must ‘do the right thing’ now with voluntary regulation.
Last night Mrs Murdoch told the Mail: ‘The clock continues to tick for gambling firms to act. Every day they fail to do the right thing, more people’s lives will continue to be tragically wrecked by this appalling addiction.’
Baroness Morgan urged the FA to scrap its deal with gambling firms. She told The House magazine: ‘It is quite extraordinary… that we would want to encourage people to have to open an online betting account in order to be able to watch a football match.’
Sports minister Nigel Adams announced that the betting sites will no longer have exclusive rights for the rest of this season’s competition.
Brigid Simmons, chairman of the Betting and Gaming Council, which represents bookmakers, said: ‘We are taking action on all of the points the NHS has made. We care about vulnerable people and people with mental illness.’
On Tuesday the Gambling Commission, the industry regulator, announced that punters will be banned from using credit cards to place bets online and in shops from April 14.
But the NHS said betting firms must implement the ban now to prevent more Britons being sucked into debt.