Betting firms who sponsor Premier League football clubs have been criticised by the chief executive of NHS England for apparently ignoring the industry’s duty to help Britain’s estimated 430,000 problem gamblers.
Simon Stevens castigated foreign-owned betting companies for not contributing to a £10m fund which pays for addicts’ treatment while leaving the already overburdened health service to “pick up the pieces” from gambling-related mental ill health.
Eight firms whose names adorn Premier League teams’ shirts are reportedly refusing to pay up, said Stevens in an address at his organisation’s annual NHS Expo in Manchester. Those not paying their share were abdicating their responsibilities towards people harmed by betting, he added.
Stevens urged the Premier League, which runs England’s elite football competition, to step in and advise firms which are not paying into the fund to rethink their stance and start doing so.
“There is an increasing link between problem gambling and stress, depression and other mental health problems,” he said. “Doctors report that two-thirds of problem gamblers get worse without help, and the NHS does offer specialist treatment.
“But reports that foreign gambling companies are failing to play their part in co-funding help for addicts are deeply concerning. Taxpayers and the NHS should not be left to pick up the pieces. The health of the nation is everyone’s responsibility.”
He told his audience of NHS staff and bosses that while the service had recently opened in London its first clinic dedicated to treatment of gambling addicts, some firms were not contributing towards the £10m which is meant to be raised to fund the work of the charity GambleAware.Gambling Commission rules oblige firms to help pay for its activities.
NHS England plans to work with the Premier League “on how we persuade these foreign gambling companies to do the right thing,” he added.
GambleAware backed Stevens’s intervention.
A spokesman said: “With nearly half the clubs in the Premier League, and over two-thirds of the Championship sponsored by gambling companies, we are seriously concerned the relationship between sport and gambling has reached a tipping point.
“There is a real risk gambling advertising and sponsorships are normalising gambling for children. We welcome the call from NHS England for gambling companies, wherever they are based, to contribute more to treating problem gambling.”
However, only 2% of the UK’s 430,000 problem gamblers currently seek help, the spokesman added. The organisation also wants all “all clubs, leagues, and broadcasters who profit from gambling work with us to help fund treatment for this hidden addiction”.
The Remote Gambling Association, which represents online betting firms, said it backed the principle of a levy on companies to help fund efforts to reduce addiction.
“The RGA agrees that more funding is needed if the gambling industry as a whole is to fulfil its responsibilities to everyone in this country who gambles, and especially those who are affected by problem gambling,” it said in a statement.
“To this end we have long supported a statutory levy to ensure the correct level of funds are raised in a fair and open process and, most importantly, that they are allocated in a way that is transparent, independent, and achieves measurable benefits.”
Tom Watson, the shadow culture and sport secretary, said: “Britain is suffering from a hidden epidemic of gambling addiction and it’s the NHS and communities picking up the bill. Football fans in particular are bombarded with gambling advertising.
“Nearly half of Premier League clubs have a gambling sponsor … Labour would ban sponsorship of Premier League teams by gambling companies and introduce a compulsory contribution to make the industry pay for the treatment of gambling addiction.”
Foreign-owned betting firms that sponsor Premier League teams include Fun88, who sponsor Newcastle United, Everton’s sponsors SportPesa and M88, who have a deal with Bournemouth.