WESTMINSTER must impose a compulsory levy on the gambling industry to cut social harm, according to a new report.

Powers over gaming machines were transferred to the Scottish Parliament in 2016 on the recommendations of the Smith Commission. However, Westminster retains authority over other forms of betting, gaming and lotteries for the whole of the UK.

In a report published today, academics urge a “radical overhaul” of the rules to prevent gambling addiction and major investment help those with a betting problem.

Written by a team from Scotland, England, Wales and Australia, it states that less than £1.5 million was spent on prevention activity in 2017-18. In contrast, the annual budget in New Zealand, which has a headcount of 4.7m, is £9.3m.

And it says estimates that the UK-wide social costs of gambling – including financial problems, relationship breakdown, abuse, neglect and adverse childhood experiences – run from £200m to £1.2 billion a year are “likely to be considerable underestimates”.

Co-author Professor Gerda Reith, of Glasgow University, commented: “As a society we need to face up to the broad environment that gambling harm is produced in – the role of the industry, as well as the policy climate that they operate in.

“Gambling doesn’t just affect an individual. The impacts ripple out beyond them to their family, friends, communities and society. Not only does this have major implications for our health services but it is also a social justice issue. Gambling harms disproportionately affect poorer or more vulnerable groups in ways that can exacerbate existing inequalities. We urgently need a marked change in approach, and one that is long overdue.”

The paper, published in the medical journal BMJ, calls for a revision of the 2005 Gambling Act and the roll-out of a compulsory levy on the betting sector to generate funds. It also recommends that responsibility for gambling move from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to the Department of Health and Social Care.

The research says there are now 33m active online gambling accounts in the UK. Meanwhile, 55,000 youngsters aged 11-16 are said to have reported problems about their own gambling behaviour, despite age restrictions on the practice.

The report states: “Gambling encompasses a broad range of activities ranging from the National Lottery to casino games, slot machines and online betting. Around 58% of adults in Great Britain gambled on at least one of these activities in the past year.”

DCMS says it expects the industry to be “socially responsible in all aspects”.

New rules, including tougher age verification and sign-up processes, came into force earlier this week.

Speaking at the launch of the Gambling Commission’s new National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms last month, DCMS Minister Mims Davies said: “Government will intervene and act where there are dangerous products and evidence of harm.”