Gambling Commission report finds more than 2 million people are addicted to gambling or at risk of developing a problem.
More than 2 million people in the UK are either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction, according to the industry regulator, which warned that the government and industry were not doing enough to tackle the problem.
The report by the Gambling Commission estimated that the number of British over-16s deemed to be problem gamblers had grown by a third in three years, suggesting that about 430,000 people suffer from a serious habit.
It also found evidence of an increase in addiction among those playing controversial fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), which have been criticised for allowing betting shop customers to spend up to £100 every 20 seconds.
With the Department of Culture, Media and Sport not due to publish its recommendations until October, Gambling Commission executive director Tim Miller warned that neither the government nor the gambling industry were moving fast enough.
“We have a clear commitment to make gambling fairer and safer and these figures show that this is a significant challenge,” he said. “Success will depend upon us, the industry, government and others, all working together with a shared purpose to protect consumers.
“The pace of change to date simply hasn’t been fast enough – more needs to be done to address problem gambling.”
The UK’s leading gambling charity GambleAware, which funds the UK’s only dedicated gambling addiction clinic in London, repeated calls for the industry to increase its funding for addiction treatment.
GambleAware gets around £8m in funding from the industry per year but has called for this to increase to £10m.
Even that figure falls short of the donation suggested by the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, of 0.1% of the record £13.8bn the industry won from British gamblers last year, or £13.8m.
The Gambling Commission’s report, which has taken nearly two years to collate and charts gambling addiction up to 2015, found that the rate of problem gambling rose to 0.8% of over-16s from 0.6% in 2012.
That suggests an increase of more than 100,000 in the number of problem gamblers to 430,000, although the commission described the rate as “statistically stable”. The overall number of people in danger rises to more than 2.3 million when including 2 million people deemed to be at low or moderate risk of addiction.
Despite the apparent rise, the Association of British Bookmakers said the commission’s report showed that “problem gambling levels in the UK are stable”.
It dismissed concerns of a relationship between addiction and FOBTs, which make up more than half of bookmakers’ annual revenues, pulling in more than £1.8bn a year.
“Seeking to ban a single gambling product will simply lead to the shifting of problem gamblers to other areas rather than addressing the root cause of the issue,” the ABB said. The trade body called for more co-operation in the industry to reduce problem gambling levels.
According to the commission’s report, around 11.5% of the people who use machines in bookmakers are problem gamblers, up from 7.2% in 2012.
A spokesperson for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, which wants FOBT maximum stakes cut to £2 said: “The increased rate of problematic gambling associated with FOBTs should alarm policymakers.
“The bookies have claimed that because the overall population rate of problem gambling is static, FOBTs are not harmful. The data published today, which shows a rate increase, has totally undermined the bookies’ argument.”
Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East, said: “This should be a wake-up call for government as we near the response to the FOBT review in October.
“This problem is not going away, in fact it’s getting worse. If the industry believes there’s no issue, they’re completely deluded.”
While DCMS is understood to be minded to curb maximum stakes on FOBTs, Whitehall sources have previously told the Guardian that the Treasury opposes tough restrictions, fearing the impact on its tax take.
While campaigners singled out figures for FOBTs, the commission also found high rates of problem gambling in other parts of the industry.
Some 15.9% of poker players in pubs and clubs were defined as problem gamblers while the highest proportion was 20.1% in the relatively rare practices of spread betting and the use of betting exchanges. Online casino and slots gaming, one of the fastest-growing forms of gambling, showed a rate of 10.6%.
The Remote Gambling Association, which represents online firms, said: “Compared to areas like lotteries and bingo, online gambling is usually classified as ‘harder gambling’ and is always likely to attract a higher proportion of problem and at-risk gamblers and this study reflects that.
“The relatively high levels of regulation for online gambling reflect that as well, but it’s something we have to accept responsibility for and proactively seek ways to minimise those risks for all consumers.”
He said RGA members were working on several initiatives to identify patterns of addiction and intervene earlier.
The report found that rates of problem gambling, defined as being “to a degree that compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits” also vary wildly depending on factors such as sex, age, location and ethnic background.
Just 0.2% of women have a gambling problem, rising to 1.5% among men and 2.3% of men aged between 25 and 34.
Case study: Jason Haddigan
Haddigan became involved in gambling aged nine when an acquaintance starting taking him to poker games, and he turned to crime before then becoming addicted to fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). He has not gambled for a year and has written a book about his experiences, How and why I conned the bookmakers.
“[The acquaintance] got me to play a game of pool for £500 when I was nine. When I was 20, [he] had been charged for a £26,000 fraud and was due at crown court. He begged me to go on the run with him so I agreed. Two weeks after being on the road, we stumbled on a scam conning bookies. I got arrested, and went to prison at 22 with him for six months.
“After I came out I went on the road with him again though, conning bookmakers. Every bit of money earned went back to another bookmakers. We’d get £1,500 out of Ladbrokes and then gamble it away at William Hill. I went to prison two more times.
“Aged 30, that’s when the machines (FOBTs) came out. They weren’t £100 maximum stake at the time. You could do hundreds of pounds a spin and I was doing it.
“[We] got hooked because when we were betting on horses and dogs, you had to wait 10-15 minutes for your race. With problem gamblers like me, we get agitated, we want to hurry up and get the buzz. When you’re playing the machines, you haven’t got to wait so long. It’s 20 seconds, £100 a spin. It’s absolutely what we wanted.
“When you go to a bookmakers, the machines are full, people aren’t betting on horses and dogs anymore. People are even queueing for the machines. I’ve lost over £300,000 since they came out, probably more.
“I’ve had four failed relationships because of gambling and had to sell a business for £22,000. I put it back into the machines in eight days. I attempted suicide a few years back.
“I started young but when the machines came out, I went to jail more times than before. Because I got hooked on them so bad, I was committing more crime to get more money to play them and I was getting caught and going to prison.
“In prison, if you’ve got a drink or drug problem you can go on a course. But there was no help at all for gambling.”
Case study: Tony Muca
Muca, 38, of Fareham in Hampshire, started gambling on the high street before becoming addicted to online games.
“I have been gambling since I was 13 with friends and have been addicted since I was 19. I used to gamble on the high street but now I do it online.
“When I gamble I love the adrenaline but it has cost me so much money, perhaps £250,000 over 15 years. I lost most of my friends, which demoralised me and made me start drinking and taking drugs to take my attention away from losing all of my wages.
“I still gamble but not as much, because I have started to understand I can get adrenaline doing other things, like spending my money with people around me. It makes me feel better than winning a bet.
“There should be easier access to getting help with gambling addiction. If people spend their money on other things it will be good for the economy and the government could gain more if they invest in helping young people.”
Source: The Guardian