The huge growth in online gambling is driving addiction among young people, according to campaigners.
Almost half of calls to the UK’s leading gambling helpline last year were from people addicted to online gambling, up from a third five years ago. Online gambling is now the single biggest problem that GamCare deals with.
The problem appears to affect young people disproportionately. The number of 18 to 35-year-olds calling about online gambling problems has jumped by 177 per cent in five years. Research suggests that young people are the age group most vulnerable to developing problem gambling.
Karim Fatih of A Better Perspective, which offers advice about gambling problems, said: “With the advent of smartphones, people effectively have a roulette in their pocket. It’s no surprise so many young people are getting themselves into difficulties.”
The online betting industry has grown rapidly in the last five years and is estimated to be worth £3.5 billion, the equivalent of almost £75 for every adult in the UK. Precise figures are hard to come by because most operators are based overseas, mainly in Gibraltar, and have not until recently been obliged to submit figures to the gambling commission. However, the online gambling industry based in the UK doubled in size between 2010 and 2015.
Campaigners say that an advertising free-for-all has encouraged young people to take up gambling in record numbers. The most recent analysis by Ofcom has found that gambling adverts on TV increased by 1,400 per cent between 2007 and 2012.
After an outcry last year, the gambling industry agreed that it would no longer promote free sign-up offers on TV before 9pm. However, these adverts are still allowed before the watershed when there is live football on TV.
Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a psychiatrist and founder of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, said: “There is a risk that exposure to gambling advertising can encourage young people to gamble and that regular exposure can normalise that behaviour.”
Online gambling also attracts a more affluent audience, with participation in the top two income groups rising from 11.9 per cent in 2008 to 18.7 per cent in 2014. The proportion of people with degrees referred to the National Problem Gambling Clinic has risen from 61 to 67 per cent over the past five years.
A spokesman for the Remote Gambling Association said: “There may be an implication here that it is wrong for young people to gamble at all. If they are below the legal age to do so then that is absolutely right, but for adults above the age of 18 then parliament long ago decided that they were permitted to gamble if they choose to do so.
“The key issue is not how young adults become aware of gambling or choose to take part in it, but whether there are adequate safeguards for them and all other gamblers when they do so.
“As a regulated industry those safeguards are set out in licensing conditions by the gambling commission, but we readily accept that it is something we must keep reviewing.”
THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
- Roulette Players put their money on a number, range of numbers, colour, or odd or even, in the hope the ball lands on their selection.
- Slot machines These work in the same way as the real-life version where players win if three of the same reels match.
- Bingo Players can compete against thousands of others to see whose numbers come up first.
- Poker Like the real-life game, players with the best hand win, either against the computer or other online users
- Blackjack A card game between the player and the dealer with the aim of being the first to reach 21.
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