GAMBLING – THE PROBLEM
For many people gambling is an occasional,
harmless pastime, but for others it can lead
to financial ruin, relationship breakdown
or even suicide. And for those who do
experience problems, specialist help
has too often been hard to find
HIDDEN IN PLAIN SI
roblem gambling is often called the ‘hidden addiction’, as there
will frequently be no outward signs that someone is struggling
with addictive behaviour. The social and financial impact of the
UK’s gambling problem, however, is becoming ever more visible.
Many people gamble in some form, and most without
experiencing any adverse effects. In a given year almost 60 per cent of British
adults will gamble, including on the National Lottery, slot machines or online
betting sites – there are currently 33m active online gambling accounts in
the UK. 1
However according to the Gambling Commission – the government body
responsible for regulating the gambling industry – there are around 2m
people experiencing some level of gambling harm, and 340,000 who could be
classified as problem gamblers. 2
WHAT IS A PROBLEM GAMBLER?
A problem gambler is someone experiencing addictive behaviour defined by
the World Health Organization as a gambling disorder. 3 This is characterised as
a ‘pattern of persistent or recurrent gambling behaviour’ where gambling can
take precedence over other interests or daily activities and where people have
impaired control over the frequency, duration or intensity of their gambling.
The behaviour patterns associated with a gambling disorder can be
severe enough to lead to ‘significant impairment in personal, family,
social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning’,
states WHO. The mental health issues associated with problem gambling,
meanwhile, can be severe enough to result in suicide.
COUNTING THE COST
It’s not just on the individual where the impact is felt, however. An analysis
by the IPPR think tank of the health, welfare, housing and criminal justice
costs associated with problem gambling put the combined price tag at up to
£1.16bn per year for the UK as a whole. 4
Gambling encompasses a broad
• Approximately 0.7 per cent of
of activities, ranging from the adults (about 340,000 people)
National Lottery to casino games,
slot machines, and online betting.
58 per cent of adults in
• GB Around
gambled on at least one of these
activities in the past year.
in GB are problem gamblers and
a further 1.1 per cent (about
550,000) are at moderate risk of
harms related to gambling.
• Online gambling – on casino or
2 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • WIDER HEALTH SERIES
One particularly concerning aspect is the number of young people who
could potentially go on to experience problems. While the minimum legal age
for most gambling in the UK is 18, people can buy scratch cards and lottery
tickets at 16 and many gaming machines in amusement arcades and other
venues have no age limit. Young people experiencing gambling issues are more
likely to truant and perform poorly at school, and, crucially, are also more likely to
develop a gambling disorder in adulthood. 5
A 2019 Gambling Commission report found that almost as many 11- to
16-year-olds had spent their own money on gambling in the previous week
than had drunk alcohol, taken drugs or smoked cigarettes. 6 Just under 2 per
cent of this age group were already classified as problem gamblers.
Worryingly, while problem gambling can remain hidden from family,
friends and colleagues for years, the issue has also largely been unseen by
addiction treatment providers, wider health professionals and policy makers.
Currently less than 3 per cent of people with a gambling disorder are
receiving treatment for their addiction.
GAMBLING REGULATION AND LEGISLATION
High street and online gambling providers need a licence issued by either
the Gambling Commission or local authority, while gambling advertising is
subject to the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) primary advertising
regulations and augmented by the 2007 Gambling Industry Code for
Gambling legislation recently made national headlines after the
government cut the maximum stake it was possible to place on controversial
fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) – often called the ‘crack cocaine of
gambling’ – from £100 to £2, while a 2019 paper published in the BMJ
argued for a revision of the 2005 Gambling Act to include a compulsory levy
on the industry to support people with gambling problems. 7
slot style games and sports betting
– is the largest growth area in the
sector, accounting for over a third
of the market. There are over 33m
active online gambling accounts
The prevalence of online
gambling has increased from less
than 1 per cent in 1999 to 9 per cent
in 2016, with many online gamblers
holding multiple accounts. This
makes online gambling as popular
as traditional betting on horses
and more popular than playing slot
machines or visiting casinos.
per cent of children aged 11-16
• have 14 gambled
in the past week, with
around 55,000 reporting problems
from their gambling behaviour.