The boss of one of the country’s biggest online betting companies says the industry should consider funding a network of gambling treatment centres.
Richard Flint, executive chairman of Sky Bet, told BBC News the industry “hadn’t done enough to look after problem gamblers”.
The Gambling Commission estimates about 400,000 adults in Great Britain have a gambling problem.
Charity Gambling With Lives described Mr Flint’s comments as “insulting”.
Its founders said he had underplayed the damage gambling addiction could do to people’s lives.
Sky Bet has been at the centre of the growth of the online betting industry and the company last year was valued at more than £3bn.
Reflecting on his time at the company before he leaves his role next month, Mr Flint said: “In the past, the industry has perhaps encouraged people to spend beyond their means.”
In 2018 Sky Bet had to pay a £1m fine for “failing to protect vulnerable customers”.
Speaking exclusively to BBC News, Mr Flint acknowledged there had been failings.
He said: “The industry hasn’t done enough to look after problem gamblers. We need to do more to self-regulate, and if we don’t do more there will be more regulation forced upon us.”
‘Like a heroin addiction’
Charles and Liz Ritchie from Sheffield founded the charity Gambling With Lives after their 24-year-old son Jack ended his life in 2017 after developing a gambling addiction.
“Jack started gambling whilst he was at school,” said Mr Ritchie.
“And he took his own life because he never thought he would be free from gambling.”
Mrs Ritchie has described her son’s gambling addiction as like being addicted to heroin.
“I feel insulted by what Mr Flint has said, it minimises the damage the industry has done to people’s lives,” she said.
“We have gambling companies saying they want to put money into treating gambling addiction, but they don’t want to put money into gambling prevention.”
Figures from the Gambling Commission, the body that regulates the industry, suggest the number of adults taking part in online betting each month has nearly doubled, from 1.7 million adults in 2016, to 3.2 million in 2019.
Gambling and betting companies already contribute funding towards the charity Gamble Aware and the industry has recently provided funding for GamStop, a programme designed to allow customers to ban themselves from online betting platforms.
Earlier this month a paper in the British Medical Journal recommended a mandatory tax be introduced on the gambling industry, which could be used to fund gambling treatment centres.
The NHS has one dedicated gambling addiction treatment centre in London, with a second centre due to open this summer in Leeds, where Sky Bet is based.
Mr Flint said the gambling industry itself should now consider funding a national network of treatment centres, without the introduction of a statutory tax.
“I’ve been to a gambling addiction treatment centre and seen the devastation that gambling addiction has caused people and their families,” he said.
“Leeds is opening a treatment centre this summer which is a great step forward, but I do think we need a bigger network of treatment centres going forward.”