NHS urges betting firms to help tackle 'vicious' gambling addiction

The NHS is calling for an end to "betting bribes" in a bid to take action against gambling addiction and its effect on mental health.

Claire Murdoch, the head of mental health services in England, said the link between betting and mental illness is "increasingly clear" and incentives such as free bets should be banned.

She has written a letter to five major bookmakers warning that the NHS can no longer "pick up the pieces" from gambling addiction.

In the letter to the chief executives of William Hill, BetFred, bet365, GVC and Flutter, Mrs Murdoch highlights the predatory tactics that "turn the occasional flutter into a dangerous habit".

She added: "I am concerned that offering people who are losing vast sums of money... free tickets, VIP experiences, and free bets, all proactively prompt people back into the vicious gambling cycle which many want to escape."

Mrs Murdoch said the NHS had been forced to open 14 gambling-addiction clinics in a £2.3bn investment in mental health.

She said she had "seen first-hand the devastating impact on the mental wellbeing of addiction" as a nurse of more than 30 years' experience.

The letter, which has the backing of ministers and MPs, adds: "We should not be expected to pick up the pieces from lives damaged by avoidable harm."

Betting firms have agreed to meet Mrs Murdoch for a summit on the issue of problem gambling, which has also been linked to suicide.

In response to her letter, the Betting and Gaming Council said it was "determined to raise standards and improve safer gambling" and was working on ways to combat the issues, such as including new age-verification checks and increasing funding for research, education and treatment.

The organisation also invited Mrs Murdoch to "meet with us at the earliest opportunity" to discuss her concerns and what is being done to raise standards in the gambling industry.

It follows the announcement that customers of gambling companies are going to be banned from using their credit cards for betting from 14 April.

The Gambling Commission's plan, which aims to tackle problem gambling and protect vulnerable customers, has sparked steep falls in the share prices of major industry players.