Research is expected to reveal this week that as many as one in 50 of the adult population who gamble regularly are hopelessly addicted. The last time such a large-scale survey of gambling in Britain was undertaken was in 1999.
It found that 33 million adults, or 72% of the population, gambled in some form or another. Of those, around 300,000 or 0.9% of the total, were “problem gamblers”. The British Gambling Prevalence Study, to be published on Wednesday, is likely to show that this last figure has now risen to 2% of a total of at least 40 million who gamble regularly. This translates into at least 800,000 adults have a significant problem.
Support groups for gamblers have reported an increase in the number of people seeking help. One, GamCare, a charity providing advice and practical help in addressing the social impact of gambling, received 30,247 calls to its telephone helpline last year. This was a 34% rise on the previous year.
Since 1999, the opportunities to gamble have increased tenfold, particularly with the introduction of online betting, and commentators now put the gross revenue of the industry at £9.3 billion. Bingo players alone stake more than £1.8 billion worth of their money per year in the hope of a big win.
Even Gordon Brown’s decision to kick the notion of a regional super-casino into the long grass soon after becoming Prime Minister may not deter British punters, who spent more than £4.3 billion in the country’s 138 casinos in the past 12 months. The effect of the internet on gambling will also be measured for the first time in the report. But the industry says the report was never intended to be compared with that of eight years ago. Instead, the research was designed to provide a snapshot of the nation’s gambling habits which would be measured again after three years to see the changes. This will be particularly important in light of the Gambling Act, which came into effect on September 1 with the aim of regulating the industry.