Bookmakers pledge £100m to avoid gambling crackdown

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The UK's biggest gambling firms are offering the government a significant increase in the money they contribute to tackling problem gambling.

The owners of William Hill, Coral Ladbroke, Betfair Paddy Power, Skybet and Bet 365 will offer to increase the voluntary levy on their gambling profits, the BBC has learnt.

They have offered to up the levy from 0.1% to 1% over the next five years.

The new level would eventually raise £100m per year for gambling charities.

Last year, the voluntary levy raised £10m.

The firms made the pledge in a letter to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) seen by the BBC.

The Gambling Commission recently said the need for more staff, research and treatment required an annual contribution from the industry of £70m.

The firms said they would also consider increasing the amount of safer gambling messaging and reviewing the "tone and content" of its advertising.

The pre-emptive offer is part of an effort by the industry to improve its image after what insiders acknowledge was a reputation-damaging battle over Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, which eventually saw the maximum stake in any one spin reduced from £100 to £2.

Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State at the DCMS, said: "I want the gambling industry to step up on social responsibility and keep their players safe, including through making more funding available for research, education and treatment to tackle problem gambling.

"I have met the major players in the sector recently and my department is in discussions with them on a strong package to increase their financial contribution, as well as make meaningful commitments on other measures to help ensure people gamble safely.

"Protecting people and their families from the risks of gambling-related harm is a priority for this government and I am encouraged that the sector now recognises that they need to do more."

'Industry on a precipice'

One source told the BBC: "The industry is on a precipice - if we don't get ahead of this, we will end up where the alcohol industry was 10 years ago and tobacco 30 years ago. The fear is that we face a ban on touchline advertising or football shirt sponsorship."

The gambling firms have already agreed to a voluntary "whistle to whistle" ban on advertising during sporting events from August of this year.

In an extract of the letter to Jeremy Wright, the firms say that as companies representing half of the gambling industry, "we are committing to collaborate to address gambling-related harm with the priority of protecting the young and vulnerable."

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has described Britain's "gambling epidemic" as a public health crisis, as it can lead to debt, loneliness and suicide.

He has called for all gambling firms to be forced to reapply for their licence to review their commitment to corporate responsibility. He has also recommended the establishment of a gambling ombudsman to provide redress for customers who are treated poorly.

A recent report published in the British Medical Journal found that the economic and social harms of problem gambling have been underestimated.

The Gambling Commission estimates there are 430,000 people with a serious gambling addiction in the UK. If you include those they deem at risk of addiction, the number rises to more than two million.