GambleAware is one of the leading independent organisations in the UK. The Gambling Commission recognises it as having a formal commitment to research and education. This surrounds the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms. It creates plans for this alongside the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling (ABSG) and the Commission.
Together, the organisations came up with the idea of voluntary contributions. They asked all gambling companies in Britain to contribute at least 0.1% of their annual GGY. Those funds go to GambleAware, allowing it to deliver on its responsibilities. Let’s put this into context. Those companies with a GGY of less than £250,000 per year only need donate £250 to the cause.
To combat gambling harm, 0.1% of a company’s GGY doesn’t seem like much at all. Some companies in the country make millions of pounds each year. They can, of course, give more than the requested 0.1%, if they like. Yet the likelihood is that the majority wouldn’t. Gambling operators don’t like giving away more money than they have to. As noted, this contribution is a voluntary one, meaning they are not required to do it. It’s more like a gesture of goodwill to the industry and vulnerable players.
Yet in Q3 of the 2022/2023 financial year, GambleAware received £13,209,805 in voluntary donations. That’s an impressive amount. The issue is that the biggest proportion of that came from two brands only. The country’s largest operators in Entain and Bet365 accounted for 90.4% of that figure. The remaining amount came from a selection of others. With that being the case, could it be that most brands are shirking their duty to vulnerable players?
Gambling Firms Failing to Fund Addiction Treatment Nothing New
It’s not likely to come as any surprise, but betting firms aren’t known for their philanthropy. Back in 2017, The Guardian reported on operators not funding addiction treatment. Despite pledging to donate part of their income for such, it didn’t happen. At least, not by as many firms as expected. GambleAware said back then that the government should force them to make contributions. The organisation said it had lost its patience with the brands. Their lack of donations had left it facing shortfall. As a result, there was a risk to its own efforts to help gambling addicts.
This came about several days before the government published its review of gambling machines. Following that publication, there was a reduction in max bets on betting terminals. This was due to the concern over their links to addiction. It begs the question of why the government never enforced stronger rules on firms. A law could have come into effect that made sure the 0.1% donation from them happened.
The original pledge to donate the 0.1% figure came about in 2005. That is the same time as the Labour government deregulated the industry.
In 2018, GambleAware had a target of £10 million to reach in donations. That sum was lower than the £14.4 million it would have received if firms had donated in the proper way. The prediction for the total turnover from the industry was £14.4 billion. Yet in that year, it received a total sum of £9.6 million instead. That’s £400,000 less than the target for 2018. Even at that time, Bet365 donated £868,000 to GambleAware. Yet the company had a turnover of £2.86 billion and made operating profits of £660.3 million. Bet365 CEO Denise Coates received a salary of £265 million in 2017.
Not too long after this revelation, gambling firms offered to increase their donations. William Hill, Coral Ladbrokes, Betfair Paddy Power, Skybet and Bet365 all made the pledge. In 2019, the firms said that they would increase the voluntary levy from 0.1% to 1%. That, they stated, would occur over the proceeding five years. Yet now, almost four years later, it seems that some of them still aren’t even contributing 0.1% of their GGY.
The increase to 1% would mean an extra £100 million per annum for GambleAware. Doubtless, that would provide great help with tackling problem gambling. The lack of voluntary contributions had even seen action from MPs in the House of Commons. They called for a new mandatory levy to become law. The Gambling Commission also backed this idea in April of 2019.
That pledge wasn’t seen as genuine by some, though. International humanitarian agency CARE was one of these sceptics. While it welcomed the increase to 1%, it said that the gambling firms were “running scared”. It highlighted how they were trying to avoid the introduction of a mandatory levy. To escape such, they went forward with making a promise that they weren’t bound to by law. A mandatory levy would have guaranteed more funding for research, though.
Donation Amounts Remain an Insult to Vulnerable Players
The pledge from 2019 for higher donations was, as expected, unfulfilled. In 2021, further insight into how gambling firms were operating came to light. These brands had brokered deals worth £30 million with football clubs for sponsorship. Their contributions to GambleAware were still very minimal, though.
According to the organisation, one of those firms had donated only £250. This amount is very much expected of those brands with lower GGY. Yet if a company can enter into vast deals with football clubs, so too can they donate to charity.
Each year, GambleAware publishes its list of donors. There, details are on display for anyone to see of which firms donate what. An increase in contributions from larger companies was present for the 2020-21 period. At the same time, other companies donated a lot less. GambleAware highlighted companies in particular that had their bases overseas.
The W88 brand, which sponsors Fulham football club now, donated £250 that year. At the time, it was the sponsor of Crystal Palace, and has its base in the Philippines. That stands out as a sum much lower than GambleAware received from actual charities. This included the Red Cross and various hospices.
Various other gambling companies entered the spotlight, albeit likely against their wishes. Despite forging deals worth millions, their contributions to GambleAware remained low. Vivaro in Malta (which was recently fined by the Gambling Commission) donated £10,000. TGP Europe, located on the Isle of Man, gave £5,000. Asian BGE is another offshore company that gave only £2,000 for the same period. All the companies mentioned had also crafted million pound deals with football clubs, too.
“It is yet more evidence that the industry shouldn’t be afforded the privilege of sponsoring football clubs”, said James Grimes. The owner of the Big Step charity said firms shouldn’t choose their own donations, either. He called for a mandatory levy to come into place.
Two Largest Firms Provide Biggest Donations for 2022/23 Period
It seems as though betting firms haven’t learned their lesson yet, either. For the first three quarters of the 2022-23 financial year, GambleAware received £13.2 million. Most of that came from Entain and Bet365, as highlighted. The latter of these companies donated on three separate occasions. This saw it give sums of £2.4 million, £1.7 million and £907,000. That is a total donation of around £5 million for the three quarters.
Entain, making the biggest contribution for that timeframe, donated around £7 million. Next in line was Petfre, trading as Betfred, which was also recently the victim of a UKGC penalty. This brand donated a total of £92,541 to GambleAware.
Even with such large contributions from Entain and Bet365, donations are down by 17.5%. Companies have until March 31 of this year to submit donations to GambleAware. Could it be that many are choosing not to bother with the voluntary contributions, though?
It is usually the case that Entain and Bet365 operate as part of the ‘Big Four’ in the donations list. Flutter Entertainment and William Hill often appear as the other two. Yet both of these brands are absent from the Q3 list altogether. They have made vast contributions in the past, though. Flutter donated £17.4 million in the 2021-22 period, while William Hill gave £4.5 million.
On the whole, the total industry contribution has been on the rise since 2020. This, GambleAware said, is due to the commitment made by firms to increase donations to 1% of GGY. There has been quite a few hurdles faced recently, though. To begin with, the NHS cut its funding to GambleAware in 2022. Instead, it said it would use its own money to assist people with gambling problems. That came into effect on April 1 of the same year.
Funding has also been under review as part of gambling reform in the UK. While a white paper for this should already be visible for everyone to see, it seems lost in limbo. GambleAware has had some strong words for the inconsistent approach taken towards funding. This is especially true when it comes to the wider gambling industry. Recent years have seen it fluctuate too much, placing it in a position of difficulty. That is despite the increase in donations from the bigger betting firms.
Something else much more recent to affect GambleAware came as part of a decision by the BGC. It threatened to withhold a quarter of the funds expected to go to the charity. Sources at GambleAware said that the BGC had informed them of the change for the future. This will see it keep hold of 25% of the funds, which it said it would distribute itself. This would go to projects chosen by Bet365, Flutter, Entain and William Hill.
At the moment, GambleAware decides how it will distribute the funds donated to it. This sees money go to different organisations tackling problem gambling. In 2020, the BGC made a funding announcement. Within, it pledged to use GambleAware as its main commissioning agent. This would see it spend £100 million across four years on projects it chose. That position, it said, has not changed. By 2024, the BGC says it will have given GambleAware £110 million. It noted significant changes in its plans for the future, though.
This led to former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith making his own comments. He stated that a statutory levy is more necessary than ever now if the BGC is making such decisions.
“This racket of the gambling industry deciding when, how much and now where money is spent to deal with the harm it causes simply had to end.”
Reasons Why Gambling Firms Aren’t Forthcoming with Donations
We have already highlighted that gambling firms often don’t like parting with money. Voluntary contributions mean that they don’t have to do so. As a result, they can either not donate at all or make the smallest contribution possible. A mandatory levy introduced by law would counteract this issue. Yet the government has stalled on bringing such legislation to the fore.
Rumours abounded that the gambling reform white paper was to include such a levy. When Liz Truss took over the role of Prime Minister, that levy disappeared from it. At least, according to those close to negotiations for the white paper. Those same sources suggest that Rishi Sunak is now considering it. This, they say, is the reason for the delay in the white paper’s publication.
It could be the case that gambling companies are paying less right now while they can. There is no law in place to force them to pay a specific amount. For as long as they can get away with paying a minimal figure, they’re more likely to. The omission of Flutter and William Hill from the Q3 list of donors seems odd. It could be the case that they’re waiting to see what happens with the white paper. Why pay anything now if they don’t need to and instead will have to do so under law in due course?
Without a doubt, gambling companies see that money as theirs to do with as they like. The strategy director for the Gambling with Lives charity, Will Prochaska, gave his thoughts, stating:
“It would be outrageous for the tobacco industry to control who delivers smoking cessation campaigns, so why is the gambling industry given such sway over who delivers research, education or treatment for gambling-related harm?”