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Gambling addiction ‘should be treated as a public health issue like alcoholism and smoking’

Gambling addiction ‘should be treated as a public health issue like alcoholism and smoking’, academic report says

  • Time spent at home fuelled epidemic of people hooked on online betting
  • Support services for addicts struggled to move online leaving many without help
  • Report concluded that national and local intervention needed to limit damage

Gambling addiction is an urgent public health issue that must be taken as seriously as alcoholism and smoking, says a hard-hitting academic report.

Time spent at home and increased feelings of isolation because of coronavirus have fuelled an epidemic of people becoming hooked on online betting, researchers found.

At the same time, support services for addicts have struggled to move online, leaving many unable to access professional help.

Gambling addiction is an urgent public health issue that must be taken as seriously as alcoholism and smoking, says a hard-hitting academic report (stock image)

Intervention is needed at national and local levels to limit the damage, the report concluded.

The Daily Mail has called for action against unscrupulous betting firms through its Stop the Gambling Predators campaign.

Dr Lindsay Blank, from Sheffield University’s school of health and related research, which compiled the report, said: ‘People often understand addictions to substances and can be much more accepting of how those problems need to be addressed…

‘If we can change how gambling is perceived and start to view gambling-related harm as a public health issue then we can do more to both prevent harmful gambling and help those who are already in need of support.’

The report, published in Lancet Public Health, reviewed existing evidence for what works to reduce the harm to individuals and communities as a result of gambling.

The team, funded by the National Institute for Health Research, found the regulatory, education and treatment services that successfully reduced the harm caused by smoking and drinking ‘have not been systematically developed and evaluated for gambling’.

Earlier this year a House of Lords’ report urged ministers to impose a levy on gambling operators to fund NHS addiction treatment. 

Its review found 300,000 people, including 55,000 children, were hooked on gambling.

The Daily Mail has called for action against unscrupulous betting firms through its Stop the Gambling Predators campaign (file image)

The Daily Mail has called for action against unscrupulous betting firms through its Stop the Gambling Predators campaign (file image)

The latest Gambling Commission data shows online gambling saw a month-on-month increase of 29 per cent in firms’ gross earnings. 

Among those who increased their betting, 45 per cent blamed having more time on their hands.

This month Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced a shake-up of gambling laws was needed to combat addiction. 

A review could limit online stakes and introduce tough checks on whether players can afford losses. 

Bookmakers may also be banned from offering inducements to big losers.

Flutter, which owns Paddy Power, Betfair and SkyBet websites, revealed last month its punters lost £15million a day between July and September – nearly a third higher than before the pandemic – while its global revenue was more than £1.3billion. 

James Grimes, of campaign group The Big Step, said: ‘It’s no surprise that this report implies there should be a public health approach to prevent any further suffering to families up and down the country. 

‘It’s now time to regulate appropriately with restrictions on advertising, implementation of affordability checks and ensuring products are safer.’

The Betting and Gaming Council said there was ‘no evidence problem gambling has increased during the pandemic’, adding: ‘[Our] members have increased funding for research, education and treatment and regularly intervene where customers are at risk.’ 

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