Tom Watson – 2019 Speech on Betting

Below is the text of the statement made by Tom Watson, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, in the House of Commons on 2 July 2019.

The whole House is united in supporting the Lionesses in their game at 8 o’clock tonight. The Opposition believe that we must capture the energy created by women’s football; 10 million people will be watching tonight. That is why we think that the next women’s World cup should be added to the “crown jewels” list of free-to-air sport.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. Last September, Labour announced that we would introduce a 1% mandatory levy on gambling companies to pay for research, education and treatment of problem gambling. We stand by that commitment today: only a mandatory levy will do.

I am glad that the gambling industry has sat up and listened to what we and other campaigners, on both sides of the House, are saying on this issue. Credit where it is due: the big five companies have shown leadership and responsibility, which are sorely lacking in some other parts of the industry. Gambling addiction costs the economy an estimated £1.2 billion a year, yet the amount that the industry currently contributes to treating addiction is paltry.

The voluntary levy, as it currently operates, asks for 0.1% of gambling yield. That target is never met. The industry turns over £14.5 billion a year, yet contributes less than £10 million a year to GambleAware. Some companies contribute amounts that are, frankly, insulting to the voluntary system. SportPesa, which sponsors Everton, and Fun88, which sponsors Newcastle, gave only £50 each last year. Both are white labels of the company TGP Europe. Best Bets gave £5, while GFM Holdings Ltd gave just £1. Given that there are 430,000 gambling addicts, 55,000 of whom are children, that is completely unacceptable and deliberately insulting to those leading players in the industry who are trying to take responsibility. Will the Secretary of State tell us how he will make such companies take more responsibility if not through a mandatory levy?

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care now supports a mandatory levy; Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, supports a mandatory levy; the Gambling Commission supports a mandatory levy; and Gambling with Lives supports a mandatory levy. However, I cannot quite understand from his statement whether the Secretary of State, who has responsibility for this policy area, supports a mandatory levy—does he or not?​

We in the Opposition believe that a mandatory levy is the only way to provide the structure and consistent funding that a proper system of research, education and treatment needs, and with the NHS at the heart of the process. In the announcement today, the so-called big five have said they will fulfil the 0.1% donation to GambleAware, but where will the rest of the funding go? Who or what will establish the proper clinical models and guidelines for service provision? Can the Secretary of State tell us how the Government will ensure that the money does not just go on the companies’ pet projects?

After today, we will still have inadequate regulation and a Gambling Act that is outdated and not fit for the digital age. Gambling companies licensed in the UK are sponsoring UK football teams yet operating entirely abroad, behaving irresponsibly and fuelling addiction in countries such as Kenya. Companies are allowing customers to lose tens of thousands of pounds on multiple credit cards in a single sitting. There are companies that bombard customers who try to self-exclude with advertising emails and offers of free bets, then make them sign non-disclosure agreements when they settle.

The gambling market is broken, and it is up to the Government to fix it. We do not need a voluntary patch, but a full overhaul of rules and regulations. I fear that the Secretary of State and the Government will fail in that task.