There is bad news for gambling in the UK as a leading charity has revealed it received a 30% increase in phone calls from vulnerable users in just four years.
The National Gambling Helpline released figures this week that show it took 29,889 calls in 2017-18, up from 22,875 in 2013-14. The helpline is part-funded by Gamble Aware, an independent national charity funded by donations from the gambling industry.
The figures were released in the wake of a stream of new measures brought by the gambling industry, including large fines for operators who misuse advertising powers, to reduce the number of vulnerable adults harmed by gambling in the UK.
Callers’ Chief Worries
Chief-executive Anna Hemmings revealed that around two-thirds of callers were worried about their own financial problems, while nearly 50% of callers claimed to be worried about their mental health. She urged those with a gambling problem to come forward and make contact.
She said: “We can work very effectively and in quite a short space of time. That will help reduce the impact on family and the impact of gambling-related harm more broadly.”
Fighting for Tougher Restrictions
A number of home-grown charities in the UK are fighting for tougher restrictions. One such charity is Gambling With Lives, founded in 2017 by Liz and Charles Ritchie from Sheffield, who started campaigning after their 24-year old son Jack died in Vietnam in 2017.
He had been gambling since he was 17, visiting betting shops during his school lunch to use fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). Jack took his own life after racking up thousands of pounds in debt on the machines, including a £5,000 inheritance from his grandmother.
According to the BBC, Jack’s parents said they thought their son would “grow out of it” and his death had come “totally out of the blue”.
Mrs Ritchie said: “Gambling on these fast-paced electronic machines, either in the bookies or online, is equivalent to a heroin addiction. You are addicted very suddenly and very early and we didn’t understand that. This is a serious addiction, and we need a serious public health message.”
They worked with the government to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs, which was implemented at a £2 limit earlier this year.
Up to 650 Deaths a Year
A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: “We are cutting the maximum FOBT stake to £2 and introducing increased safeguards on online gambling. On top of that, we have brought in tougher rules on betting adverts and ensured the betting industry funds a new multi-million pound responsible gambling campaign.”
Mr Ritchie said the charity also wanted more to be done to raise awareness of the potential dangers of gambling.
He said: “One of the scandals about this is the number of young people that take their own lives. Research estimates that could be anything between 250 and 650 deaths in the UK each year.”
Tim Miller, executive director at the Gambling Commission, said: “It is important that those struggling with gambling are able to access support when they need it. But a focus on preventing harm in the first place is equally important, and that’s why we will continue to take actions to require gambling companies to spot those being harmed by gambling and step in to protect them.”