Trickle-Down Gambling, Less is More, says SMF

A newly published report on the economics of gambling by a leading British think-tank, the Social Market Foundation (SMF), has provoked an industry salvo as battle formations over the Official Review of the 2005 Gambling Act are drawn up.

While conceding that the UK gambling industry contributed some £8.1bn (US$11.26bn/€9.45bn) to national GVA (Gross Value Added) in 2019–an increase of nearly 50 per cent in 10-years–the think-tank argues that tighter betting controls would have the beneficial effect of boosting national wealth by encouraging people to spend less on gambling and more on other goods and services, which, it argues, are bigger economic multipliers.

The report by the SMF—self-described as a “non-partisan” group–is called: “Double or nothing? Assessing the economic impact of gambling”.

In 2019, the gambling industry employed 83,000 people, paid £4.3bn (US$5.98bn/€5.02bn) in taxes and accounted for 0.4 per cent of the nation’s economic output, the report reiterated.

Around half of the betting industry’s GVA is now provided by the booming online and iGaming sector.

In the report, SMF Research Director Scott Corfe urged the Treasury to consider: “A sensible reform of gambling regulation [which] could reduce the societal costs of problem gambling and realise economic gains.

“The Government should commission an urgent review of the social and economic costs of gambling…in line with the timeframe of the Gambling Act Review.

“No final decisions on legislative review should be made until the Treasury has conducted an assessment of the economic and social costs of each policy change,” argued Corfe.

But Michael Dugher, CEO of the gambling industry body the Betting and Gaming Council, slammed the report as a “fantasy”.

“If people were restricted from betting in the regulated industry, they would simply migrate to the growing unlicensed, unsafe [illegal] market that employs no one, pays no tax and contributes nothing to UK plc. To think otherwise is, at best, naïve,” countered Dugher.

In its report the SMF estimated that if net gambling spend declined by 10 per cent, or around £1bn (US$1.39bn/€1.16bn) and people spent that money on retail instead, then GVA would be £311m (US$432.61m/€363.16m) higher and that this, in turn, would boost UK employment by 24,000 jobs and produce an additional £171m (US$237.87m/€199.69m) in tax.

Dugher responded: “It may be inconvenient to the anti-gambling lobby, but the fact is that 30 million people, around half the adult population, enjoy a flutter in the UK.

“Anti-gambling prohibitionists seek to deliberately downplay the economic contribution the industry makes, just because they don’t like the industry.

“They should stop looking down their noses at the people who enjoy a bet or who work in the industry.”

But Corfe stressed: “The SMF’s position is not a prohibitionist or excessively paternalistic one. We do not seek to ban gambling – an activity which many individuals find enjoyable.

“Our concern lies with problem gambling and gambling addiction, and the key point that we want to highlight here, backed up with evidence, is that the case for tackling problem gambling is not just a moral one, but one that would be good for the economy [and] good for GDP, jobs and the Exchequer.”

Submissions to the Official Review, meantime, are set to end this month, March 31.

Published on: