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By Bishop of Leeds
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Evidence is mounting that we are in the grip of a gambling epidemic

3 min read

Extra funding for gambling addiction services is a welcome addition to the NHS long-term plan. Now the gambling industry must play its part, says Lord Chadlington

On page 43 of the NHS long-term plan there is, as far as I know, the first prominent planning reference to the mental health issues associated with gambling where the government commits to establishing centres nationally for gambling treatment: “We will invest in expanding NHS clinics to help more people with serious gambling problems.”

This is welcome news and a hugely important step forward.

However, the plan does not submit gambling to the same forensic analysis adopted around the use of alcohol or tobacco, where careful consideration is given to education, cessation, prevention and treatment. Both of these issues have entire sections dedicated to addressing their associated negative health impacts.

But gambling’s health impacts should also be considered. The statistics are stark: 430,000 adults with a serious gambling problem but only 2% in treatment; 2 million in danger of addiction; 55,000 children aged between 11 and 14 already addicted; 75,000 children at risk, and an estimated two gambling-related suicides every working day.

Income from remote betting – such as online casinos – was £817m in 2009 and is now £4.5bn, which equates to one third of the industry’s total revenue. And, since 2005, UK internet penetration has risen from 27% to 95%, bringing in its wake a digital gambling revolution.

Aggressive marketing online and offline – with a total spend by gambling companies on marketing of £1.5bn, a 56% increase since 2014 – is normalising gambling in the UK.

Public concern is substantial: 80% of the UK public believes that there are too many opportunities for gambling, and 71% think that gambling is dangerous for family life.

So, evidence is now mounting that we are in the grip of a gambling epidemic. Could there be a more compelling case for education, cessation, preventative and treatment programmes in this country?

However, the gambling industry is increasingly sensitive to public concerns by voluntarily adopting initiatives such as doubling their industry levy or using advertising tools to control excessive gambling. This clearly demonstrates an appetite for change which should be harnessed positively.

There is still much more to be done. I am continuing to call for an increased contribution from the industry to the current 0.1% voluntary contribution, which would go towards education, research and treatment – which should also be attributed to prevention. And I continue to emphasise the need for a serious curb of the volume of gambling advertising, in particular on television, with a view to protecting those who are most vulnerable – particularly children.

Other countries have taken decisive action on gambling policy. In some areas of Australia there is a 2% industry levy. Advertising has been banned both online and offline in Italy. Spain is re-evaluating the current volume of gambling advertising. And in Canada, educational information has been made widely available for parents and others involved in the lives of those with a gambling problem.

For some time, I have been warning of a gambling epidemic in the UK, but recently I have seen a coming together of government policy and the voluntary initiatives of the gambling industry. I now believe that by working together – the government by putting gambling higher on its agenda and the industry through positive reform – we can avert the crisis and create what we all want: a gambling industry in this country which is well regulated and respected because it protects the young and the vulnerable. 

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