NHS mental health chief calls for bookies to end tactics fuelling gambling addiction crisis

16 January 2020, 08:44

File photo: The Gambling Commission will introduce a ban on customers placing bets with their credit cards
File photo: The Gambling Commission will introduce a ban on customers placing bets with their credit cards. Picture: PA

By Megan White

The NHS’s mental health chief has blasted bookmakers for using tactics such as offering free tickets to events to fuel the UK's gambling addiction crisis.

National mental health director Claire Murdoch warned that the health industry "should not be expected to pick up the pieces" from lives damaged by problem gambling.

In a letter addressed to Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur and Betting And Gaming Council chair Brigid Simmonds, Ms Murdoch pointed to the prevalence of "certain tactics" used by firms to encourage gamblers to chase their losses as "concerning".

She wrote: "As the head of England's mental health services and a nurse of more than 30 years' experience, I have seen first-hand the devastating impact on mental wellbeing of addiction and am concerned that the prevalence of gambling in our society is causing harm.

"In particular ... 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.

"For seven decades the NHS has adapted services in response to current challenges, but we should not be expected to pick up the pieces from lives damaged by avoidable harm."

Ms Murdoch's letter follows the Gambling Commission's decision on Tuesday to introduce a ban on customers placing bets with their credit cards.

She called on industry bosses to implement a number of harm-minimisation measures, including stopping the "targeting of high-loss customers" and ending "bet to view commercial deals which require a stake in exchange for sports streaming access".

"In order to operate safely, the gambling industry has a responsibility to prevent the occasional flutter turning into a dangerous habit," Ms Murdoch said.

"I am requesting that you please provide urgent detail on actions that your firm - and the industry - is taking to reduce the likelihood and severity of gambling addiction."

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