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Emily D. Swoboda

Uncertain Future for Proposed Addiction Tax in Scotland

8 February 2008

Concerns over gambling addiction have led a member of Scotland's parliament to demand a mandatory tax on gambling companies in the country.

Data from the Betting Research Unit at Nottingham Business School shows that gamblers in Scotland last year spent around £350 million at bookmaker shops and online gambling sites -- double the amount spent in 2001.

Because of the alarming numbers, SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson feels that gambling companies should be required to fund programs that help manage problems created by gambling, and is asking England for the power to institute a mandatory levy on all forms of gambling in Scotland. The levy would go to fund preventative and treatment measures for gambling problems.

Scotland is constitutionally part of the United Kingdom and it has a higher rate of problem gambling than any other area of the country, explained Patricia Gibson, who is a councilor for the city of Glasgow and works part-time for Mr. Gibson.

The Scottish Parliament doesn't have the authority to regulate gambling; all legislative work for gambling is done at England's parliament. But Scotland has to deal with the social consequences of problem gambling, Ms.Gibson said.

Under the U.K. Gambling Act 2005, which applies to Scotland and Wales, gambling operators have the option to pay into the Responsibility in Gambling Trust (RIGT), a fund used to help problem gamblers in the United Kingdom, but the contribution is not mandatory.

According to the RIGT's 2006/2007 Annual Report, only 11 gambling companies contributed to the trust. While the RIGT met its funding goal of £3 million for that year, it said that unless all operators make the appropriate contribution to education, research and treatment, it would be likely that a statutory levy would be imposed.

Ms. Gibson said that statistics have shown that gambling addiction is much more prevalent in Scotland than in any other area of the United Kingdom.

"Something like 8 or 9 percent of people who visit casinos in Scotland have problems with gambling," she said.

She continued by saying that between five and 10 people are affected by every one person with a gambling problem.

If Mr. Gibson leads a successful crusade and wins the power to fight problem gambling in his country, contributions from Scottish gambling companies may one day be mandatory, while companies in the rest of the United Kingdom could still be on a voluntary basis.

In that case, Scotland would have to set up a separate body for the collection of the mandatory contributions, Ms. Gibson said.

She hinted that this process could go on for quite some time, depending on how responsive and respectful England's parliament is of Mr. Gibson's request.

Ms. Gibson said England is reluctant to grant any expansion of power within the Scottish Parliament, and there is no precedent for transferring this type of power from one parliament to the other in the United Kingdom.

"We are in uncharted waters," she said.

Uncertain Future for Proposed Addiction Tax in Scotland is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda