Gambling problems big issue in UK

The UK newspaper MailOnline reported this week that the number of British problem gamblers seeking help from Gamcare has increased by 25 percent since the Labour government 'relaxed' the UK betting laws. The reports reveals that almost 38 000 people called the betting addiction hotline at Gamcare last year compared with just over 30 000 in the previous year. There were also some 1 407 requests for help to online advisers.

The average amount of gambling debt rose from GBP 13 800 to GBP 17 500, up nearly GBP 4 000 in 12 months. Seven percent of callers admitted to owing more than GBP 100 000.

Political and civic spokesmen have urged Culture Secretary Andy Burnham to tighten up the laws to protect the vulnerable from getting into difficulties in a mainly land-focused gambling industry that is estimated to be worth around GBP100 billion to the UK economy.

The newspaper says it has become easier to join a casino or play on fixed odds terminals in betting shops, and that the government has been accused of 'shameful irresponsibility' for giving the green light to 16 regional casinos with slot machines offering GBP4 000 jackpots.

Gamcare's annual report said the record 37 806 calls to its helpline last year was a 25 percent increase on 2006. There was also a total of 1 407 requests for help to online advisers. Most commonly, those seeking help were aged between 26 and 35, and a small proportion - between 3 and 4 percent - were under 18.

The MailOnline reports that the number of women problem gamblers ringing the helpline jumped from 13 to 18 percent to comprise nearly a fifth of callers, and that almost 60 percent of those calling by phone were involved in gambling on fixed odds terminals, usually found in betting shops, or staking money over the counter on horses, greyhounds and football. Another fifth played fruit machines.

Thirty percent of those seeking help via the Gamcare website said they had problems with 'table games' - poker, roulette and other card games. And some 50 percent placed their bets in bookmakers' shops.

One in seven gambled on the Internet.

Gamcare reported that the number of counselling sessions it offered increased to 9 594 last year, up 36 percent.

Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt commented to the newspaper: "This just shows how worrying it is that the Government has put in place absolutely no strategy to deal with problem gambling.

"At a time of increasing economic uncertainty, addictive gambling risks fuelling indebtedness. By liberalising the gambling laws the Government has made the problem worse. Something needs to be done before more lives are ruined."

However, the government's Culture Department said research showed problem gambling was at the same levels as in 1999. A spokesman said: "The increase in calls to Gamcare shows the measures in the Gambling Act requiring operators to display prominent information about responsible gambling, such as helplines, are being followed. It is encouraging to see that people at risk are seeking advice and help."

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