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  • Alex Mills

NHS will stop taking money from the gambling industry to treat people with addiction

There is a glaring conflict of interest in the funding of education and treatment programmes by the gambling industry – and now the NHS agrees.

Have we been offered money by the gambling industry to educate and treat sportspeople? Yes. Did we accept it? No. Will ever accept it? No.

One of the key excerpts from the letter sent by Claire Murdoch, the National Mental Health Director to gambling industry-funded treatment provider Gamble Aware last week, reflected the discomfort that has existed in the clinical community, including at Sporting Chance, for many years. “Our decision (to cease the dual commissioning and funding by Gamble Aware of the NHS elements of the problem gambling treatment pathway) has been heavily influenced by patients who have previously expressed concern about using services paid for directly by industry. Additionally, our clinicians feel there are conflicts of interest in their clinics being part-funded by resources from the gambling industry.” This fundamental issue lies at the heart of why Sporting Chance, back in September 2020, publicly went on record to express our deep concerns about the industry funding of education and treatment programmes specific to our own field, professional and elite level sport.

This follows on from Murdoch’s letter to those in charge of individual gambling operators last year, holding them to account for the “increasingly clear and worrying links between gambling and mental ill health”. In that particular missive, Murdoch not only makes it clear that the NHS “should not be expected to pick up the pieces from lives damaged by avoidable harm” but just as importantly, what (or who) she considers to be a key factor behind that word ‘avoidable’: “Worryingly some of the incentives apparently offered by individual firms to continue betting, appear designed to undermine people’s ability to stay in control: bet to view streaming; pervasive advertising; and rewards in exchange for bets, all are likely to make decision-making for vulnerable people significantly harder.” In short, the gambling industry’s behaviour (in addition to developing increasingly harmful products and pushing a ‘gamble responsibly’ agenda that volleys the blame back to the other side of the net) is a big part of the problem. Sporting Chance have been asking for some time now that if this is the case, why on earth are they part of the solution?

Claire Murdoch wasn’t saying anything new back in 2021, Sporting Chance was not saying anything new when we publicly challenged sport on its dependent relationship with the gambling industry a year before that. What is new in the most recent step from the National Mental Health Director is tangible action in the form of a clear ‘no’ to industry funding for the treatment of problem gambling in the general population. It’s progress we can all see and it sends out a clear message in support of therapists and clinicians in particular (including those on the Sporting Chance network). It says to therapists: ‘We recognise your discomfort’. It says to therapists: ‘You don’t have to feel guilty about taking this money from the gambling industry, and trapped because people won’t get much needed help if you don’t take it’. It says to society in general that the gambling industry can’t control this whole process by virtue of financial clout, even in economically challenging times – they can’t develop increasingly damaging products, blare them out on every screen in our lives, and then fall back on their role in funding treatment and education as mitigation for this behaviour. It says to society – ‘that line just won’t wash anymore’.

Sporting Chance welcomes last week’s development and we reiterate the call for similar, tangible independence from the industry in relation to the provision for professional sportspeople. We feel that when sportspeople experience gambling related harm, they deserve to be helped in the same way Claire Murdoch feels everyone else should – free from the influence of the gambling industry and the blatant conflict of interest on show here.

Colin Bland, CEO, Sporting Chance.


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