YGAM founder says levy would harm UK’s reputation on social responsibility

Willows is the founder of the  Young Gamers & Gamblers Education Trust.
Willows is the founder of the Young Gamers & Gamblers Education Trust.

Lee Willows says gambling addiction is falling but that a statutory levy on gaming operators could reduce choice.

UK.- Lee Willows, the founder of the responsible gambling charity Young Gamers & Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM), has warned that the UK could lose its leading status in the area of gambling social responsibility if the government introduces a mandatory levy to fund treatment and prevention.

Speaking after the Westminster Media Forum on gambling regulation, Willows, who founded YGAM after his own battle with gambling addiction, said: “I firmly believe the UK is a global leader in social responsibility, but I worry that flame might be dimming as the funding debate becomes more about a desire to break-up the very ecosystem that supported me and today supports many others. It is this third sector-led ecosystem that to my mind, makes us world-class.”

He asked: “Why have we allowed it to come down to narrow choices between the National Health Service or the third sector to deliver a national programme of treatment – why can’t both co-exist? I have often said we need a choir of voices and organisations in this space. Why is it so difficult for start-up organisations – often led by individuals with lived experience – to access funding?

“Why is the funding debate consistently tarnished by some who feel there is a lack of independence as opposed to recognising the impact of that funding, which in my experience is completely independent. Finally, why are we not humbled that addiction levels are coming down and education and awareness is now at an all-time high, being led by superb charities in a considered, well-thought and evidenced manner?”

The YGAM founder added: “Whilst there is much more to be achieved, we should be humbled by this progress. Do we really think that big state NHS-only programmes, funded by a statutory levy can do any better? Will big state programmes enable agility and innovation? Will big state programmes deliver better value for money?

“Will big state programmes really provide the funding for very local services or take a risk on start-up organisations or ideas, particularly from those with lived-experience, often starting out as sole-traders? Will big state, one size fits all programmes, be able to deal with the complexities around gambling addictions?”

There have been reports in the press that the government is considering dropping proposals for a mandatory levy from its overhaul of gambling legislation, as well as proposals to ban gambling sponsorship in sport.

Gambling Commission CEO Andrew Rhodes told the Westminster Media Forum Gambling Regulation Conference that the delay to the government’s gambling paper was no excuse not to take action now.

Earlier this year, Willows, together with the gambling harm prevention body, Better Change, announced the launch of a new non-profit in the sector. ESG Gaming will take “an evidence-led approach” to deliver three key products in esports, igaming careers and safer gambling research.

The body intends to support regulated jurisdictions and safer gambling strategies by collaborating with gaming businesses to minimise negative impacts and build transparency. It will work with a company’s people and products and promote systems of controls and procedures designed to reduce gambling-related harm.

UK health body calls for ban on “high risk” gambling products

Meanwhile, the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), a body that represents the views of public health directors in the UK, has publicly called for changes to gambling legislation. Its proposals include a ban on “high risk” gambling products.

It also called for a “public health approach” to gambling harm with measures to prevent high concentrations of land-based bookmakers – specifically “the clustering of gambling outlets in vulnerable communities alongside consideration of clustering with other forms of outlets/services with potential negative health impacts”.

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