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Tue 31 March 2020
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Iwan Doherty and Stephen Colegrave look at how the huge growth in gambling activity and revenue has grave consequences for society.

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The gambling industry is growing up fast – with its worth increasing from £8.4 billion in 2011 to roughly 14.4 billion today.

Online gambling is fuelling this growth and, although nearly half of us are participating in gambling regularly, an increasing minority is suffering the consequences of its dark side in terms of debt and mental health. Indeed, 4.7% of problem gamblers claim to have attempted suicide.

Gambling has become all pervasive, with constant television adverts and marketing at sports events and, as online gambling dominates, the most active gamblers are young, aged 25 to 34. Many of these people have young families that also suffer its consequences.

Online gambling is outpacing attempts to regulate it as its operations are often offshore and beyond reach. Old-style betting shops, although still a sign of a poor area, are beginning to decline with plans to close more than 1,000 of these shops over the next two years as online gambling continues to take off.

Gambling can’t grow by more than 70% in a decade without causing harm. In 2017, a report of The Gambling Commission found that there were more than two million people addicted to gambling and more than 400,000 problem gamblers. 

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, problem gamblers are more likely than others to suffer from low self-esteem, develop stress-related disorders, to become anxious, have poor sleep and appetite, to develop a substance misuse problem and to suffer from depression. 

Seven per cent of gamblers say that they gamble to “earn money to get by day to day”. This doesn’t include the number of ‘day traders’ who are gambling on the stock market, often with little knowledge.

This is an industry that is squeezing money out of its customers and knows that problem gamblers are hugely lucrative. Denise Coates, the CEO of online gambling firm Bet365, is the highest paid chief executive of any British company, with her earning nearly $424 million last year.

Recently, the large betting companies have been exposed as relying on impoverishing a tiny number of problem gamblers to survive, with one company taking 83% of all deposits from 2% of its customers. Such gamblers, who habitually lose large sums of money, are compensated with perks such as free bets, cashback on losing wagers or football tickets. Unsurprisingly, they are much more likely to become addicted.

Personal adverts have become a new tool for the gambling companies and they are now using third-party companies to harvest people’s data, helping bookmakers and online casinos target people on low incomes and those who have stopped gambling. Betfred’s owners are making millions from a company treating those addicted to gambling, as well as being involved with debt advisory companies. 

There is no doubt that the poorest members of society are hardest hit by the consequences of gambling. Even the National Lottery relies on less well-off gamblers, even though most of the causes it supports benefit the middle-classes, the opera being the most extreme example.

Why is this allowed to continue – particularly when 58% of us believe it should be discouraged?

Is it because gambling tax provides important income for the Government? Or because, for many members of the establishment, their only real experience of gambling is the glamour of horse racing? Or is it because the consequences of gambling are hidden and it is only the catalyst for debt, mental health and family poverty?

It is time we do something about this before the profits of gambling rise any further and the consequences for vulnerable people become even more bleak.


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