Based on latest figures from the UK gambling watchdog, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) says close to 500,000 people are suffering from gambling addiction in the country. The largest number is recorded in England at 373,000, followed by Scotland (30,000) and Wales (27,000).
As the number of gambling addicts continues to increase in the UK, Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson has now called for more extensive research into the issue as well as more specialist treatment for people falling victims to what he terms a “hidden epidemic” in the country.
More Than £1.2 Billion Per Year Lost to Problem Gambling
A review carried out by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that 73% of the adult population in the UK gamble to some degree. The study, titled Cards on the Table, also found that problem gambling could cost the UK economy up to £1.2 billion each year.
Gambling addiction consumes up to £610 million in hospital inpatient services and up to £160 million in Job Seeker’s Allowance claims, according to the report. In addition, up to £150 million is lost every year to mental health treatments, therapies and prescription medication associated with problem gambling. Up to £250 million is also used up for gambling-related incarcerations and statutory homelessness applications.
Gambling should be viewed in a similar fashion to any other social drug as it is considered a mood modifier like alcohol based on the studies and research carried out by Professor Mark Griffiths, Director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University. While gambling can be considered a legitimate form of entertainment and leisure due to its recreational appeal and life-changing potential, it can become massively dangerous if the person involved loses control and starts to gamble irresponsibly.
Mental Health Issue
Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, founder and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic in Kensington is also concerned about the rising numbers. She says the mental health effects of problem gambling should not be ignored.
While gambling addiction is a mental health problem in its own right, it can also lead to other mental health conditions like stress, anxiety and depression. Between 4 and 11% of UK suicides every year can be attributed to problem gambling, according to the charity Gambling with Lives.
Bowden-Jones founded the first and only specialist gambling clinic in the UK. The clinic, which is overseen by the Central and North West London NHS Foundation, offers a range of services which include psychological evaluations, cognitive behavior therapies, as well as education-based lifestyle training.
Responsible Gambling
Considering the serious effects of gambling addiction, Bowden-Jones said abstinence should be the end goal in treating the problem. The government must take significant steps to bring about change and one of those should be imposing a prohibition. However, Mark Griffiths, who considers himself a recreational gambler does not agree with this step and said such an extreme measure would only worsen the situation.
Griffiths said while one should not overlook the health risks brought about by gambling, the economic contributions of the gambling industry in terms of tax revenue and employment should also be taken into account. Responsible gambling could be the key – and measures should come both from the government and within the industry.
Call For Tougher Gambling Laws
Tom Watson earlier raised concerns over the lack of regulation for the iGaming industry, saying UK gambling laws were not suitable for the digital age. With the rise of internet-based betting, it is now a lot easier and faster for gamblers to put big money on the line.
Watson wants the government to deal with a culture that has fostered an increase in gambling addiction rates. In line with the Labour party’s strict stance on gambling, Watson pledged that tougher restrictions would be put in place to curb the online gambling market. The deputy leader also wants to limit the speed at which games are permitted to be played. The call is backed by the fact that high-speed games are more likely to be addictive, as explained by Griffiths.
Watson is also calling for more robust industry regulation in relation to gambling advertising, particularly with sporting events. Griffiths said gamblers are now provided with opportunities to wager on an ongoing sports event through the use of websites or apps, escalating the gambling addiction problem.
Watson warned that the UK is in serious need of new legislation that has the ability to deal with the worst-case scenarios. With lack of action, problem gambling could become a public health emergency in the country very soon!

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