The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has revealed that its five largest members will spend £100m (€111.4m/$125.4m) on improving treatment services for problem gamblers in the UK.
Bet365, GVC Holdings, Paddy Power Betfair, Sky Betting and Gaming and William Hill will provide the funds to GambleAware, which will serve as the main commissioning agent for ensuring that the funds reach people who require counselling and treatment.
The operators had already pledged to increase the amount that they spend on research, education and treatment services from 0.1% to 0.25% of annual revenue in 2020, then 0.5% in 2021, 0.75% in 2022 and 1% in 2023.
“As the new body representing the regulated betting and gaming industry, we are committed to driving up standards,” BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said.
“This latest funding commitment is yet more evidence of the industry’s determination to improve the quality and provision of treatment for problem gamblers – and of our members’ eagerness to get on with it as quickly as possible.”
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock also welcomed the news, saying that he was delighted the five operators are taking further steps to support treatment and provision for problem gamblers.
Hancock added: “I’ve seen first hand how problem gambling can damage people’s mental health and affect the lives of those around them – and I’ve been determined to help protect vulnerable people from the impacts.
“The government will continue to tackle the consequences of problem gambling by rolling out specialist services on the NHS, which will offer expert care and treatment for those who need it.”
The pledge comes as the BGC also committed to working with its members to maintain high safety standards as betting shops in England begin to reopen from today (15 June).
All betting shops have been closed since the UK entered into a novel coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown on 23 March. However, the government will permit all non-essential retail stores, including betting shops, in England to open from today as part of the latest phase of the UK’s exit from lockdown.
Shops in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not be permitted to open until their respective governments allow, while all casinos and adult gaming centres across the UK are also to remain closed for the foreseeable future.
GVC Holdings last week confirmed it would reopen all 2,445 of its Ladbrokes and Coral betting shops in England from 15 June, while Flutter Entertainment is also set to resume activities at its English shops from today.
All shops will be required to put in place a host of new measures to protect both staff and customers when inside the store. For betting shops, these will include limiting the number of people allowed in the shop at a time, encouraging social distancing and installing hand sanitiser machines for use on-site.
BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said while today will be a “significant day” for the UK with non-essential retail stores to reopen, it is critical that betting shops do whatever they can to protect employees and punters.
“It’s clear that our members have gone above and beyond what’s been asked of them to provide the safest possible environment for their employees and customers,” Dugher said.
“I saw for myself all the hard work that’s gone in to making our members’ shops Covid-secure when I visited the Coral branch in Tottenham Court Road last week. New ‘sneeze screens’ have been installed at the till to protect staff and customers, and markings and signs have been put up making clear the two-metre social distancing rules.
“Meanwhile, as an added safety measure, William Hill are bringing in ‘call-over’ betting, where the customer tells the person behind the counter their selection, rather than having to fill in the traditional bookies’ line and hand it over.”
Dugher added that the BGC will continue to work with its members to ensure they maintain high safety standards and operated in line with current meaures.
“For many, the local bookies’ is at the heart of their community – creating good jobs, helping the economy and providing an opportunity for a flutter for the millions of people in Britain who like a bet,” Dugher said.
“And with doors now open, for the BGC, as the new standards body for the betting industry, our work to ensure higher standards on safer gambling will go on.”
The reopening of betting shops comes ahead of this year’s Royal Ascot, one of the largest events on the UK horseracing calendar, which begins tomorrow and runs to 20 June.
A number of BGC members including Paddy Power Betfair, bet365, Ladbrokes Coral, William Hill, Sky Bet, Betway, BetVictor and Kindred Group have agreed to donate profits from win and each-way bets from the Britannia Stakes on 18 June to charity.
The Britannia Stakes takes place on Ascot Gold Cup Day, the biggest betting day of Royal Ascot week, with the money raised by the operators to be split between Prostate Cancer UK, Marie Curie, The Care Workers Charity and the Berkshire Community Foundation Coronavirus Fund.
In April, a group of BGC members also donated £2.6m (€2.9m/$3.3m) in profits from the 2020 virtual Grand National to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). The virtual event replaced the showpiece Grand National, which was cancelled due to Covid-19.
“Royal Ascot is the premier highlight of the racing calendar, and it’s fitting that the profits betting companies make from one of its greatest races will go towards some fantastic causes,” Dugher said.
“The betting and gaming industry has stepped up to the plate to help the national effort, and I’m delighted that again we can show our support for those on the front line with this fantastic initiative.”