News, Culture & Society

Gambling Addiction: A Bigger Issue Than Industry Claims

Ever since the legalization of gambling activities with the 2005 Gambling Act, gambling has been perceived as an integral part of the UK‘s culture. As more people embrace liberal attitudes towards games of chance, the nation’s gambling sector continues to spur forward, making it among the most successful gambling markets globally.

Behind the scenes, though, the destructive effects of this industry on people from all walks of life continue making headlines. ‘Gambling, betting, has been with us for so long, has hurt our community so much already, and it has engraved itself into our everyday life,’ says Providence Projects CEO Paul Spanjar.

New data brings the UK’s gambling crisis under a fresh spotlight. The upsurges in gambling addiction are much higher than earlier reports had indicated.

UK’s New Gambling Scene: A Breakdown of the Statistics

While harmful gambling is not necessarily a new public health issue in the UK, it’s now escalated to greater worrying levels.

The latest research report based on a 2021 online survey done by UK-based research firm YouGov, as commissioned by GambleAware Charity, projected that as many as 2.8% of adults in the UK are experiencing problem gambling harms.

By contrast, this rate is nine times more than the 0.3% reported following a recent telephone-based survey conducted by the Gambling Commission, the statutory authority responsible for gambling regulation.

According to the Commission, the current number of problem gamblers only stands at 170,000.

To put it more clearly, here’s a quick peek at the numbers as featured in YouGov’s findings:

  • Of the 18,000plus adults who took part in the survey, 2.8% identified as problem gamblers, as reflected in their Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) score.
  • 7% of the individuals identified as problem gamblers were men, while 2% were women.
  • 5% of the male participants were at risk of developing problem gambling, while 4% of the female participants were at risk.

Based on these staggering findings, YouGov concluded that:

  • Overall, 1.4 million people in the UK are living with problem gambling and dealing with multiple negative consequences of this addiction — nearly nine times higher than the Gambling Commission’s estimates.
  • 5 million individuals are susceptible to developing risky levels of gambling behavior

Meanwhile, the national industry body, Betting and Gaming Council (BCG), isn’t in favor of these figures, as they conflict with the research evidence released by the Gambling Commission.

BCG maintains that YouGov’s findings don’t paint a true picture of the extent of gambling addiction in the UK and thus can’t be representative of the problem in a national context.

By and large, YouGov’s survey findings serve as a wake-up call of the need to shape effective regulatory responses to manage the crisis.

Part of the issue contributing to the dramatic rise in gambling is the easy access to a multitude of online gambling apps — people are just a click away from completing a gambling action.

Aside from this convenience, extensive gambling advertising and attractive betting options such as multi-bets and lotteries continue to fuel the addiction.

A Look at Gambling Addiction Treatment Options Today

The statistics behind problem gambling reveal the magnitude of this addiction across the UK.

Still, supportive and confidential treatment services are readily available through the National Gambling Treatment Service (NGTS) — made up of state-approved gambling treatment service providers, notably Gordon Moody, GamCare, and NHS treatment centers.

This behavioral addiction causes brain changes similar to those associated with drug or alcohol dependence. Gambling activities activate the brain’s reward system. As feel-good neurotransmitters flood the brain, one develops an irresistible urge to gamble more and more.

For the problem gambler, winning isn’t the only thing that matters — it’s the anticipation of placing the next bet, again and again. When severe gambling behavior sets in, comprehensive treatment is needed to overcome this complex illness.

Individuals at high risk of or currently living with an existing gambling problem are encouraged to contact the free, 24-hour National Gambling helpline, and specialized treatment arrangements shall be made as soon as possible.

More information on the various problem gambling treatment options can be found on the NHS website.

Alternatively, if you (or probably someone close to you) are undergoing gambling-related harm and wish to speak to someone, confidential online support is within your reach through BeGambleAware.org.

Private Rehab centers also offer comprehensive treatment and recovery programs to persons battling problem gambling.

Uptake of Treatment Services Still Low

A 2020/2021 annual statistics report shows that 8,490 people enrolled for treatment through the NGTS.

By the end of the scheduled treatment program, 70% of those enrolled with a chronic gambling problem were no longer considered problem gamblers, as evidenced by their Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) Score.

Despite these positive treatment outcomes, there are concerns over the low number of people receiving professional help, given the high cases of those in urgent need of treatment.

In a bid to make more people embrace the idea of treatment, the independent charity tasked with lowering gambling-related harms in the UK remains relentless in destigmatizing the addiction — often cited as a key barrier making individuals shy away from getting the help they genuinely need.

The charity has put forward ongoing campaigns and education-based programs aimed at creating widespread awareness of the opportunities for treatment and support services for both low-to-moderate-gamblers and those with severe gambling behaviors.

The survey organizer is optimistic that as these campaigns fuel provoking conversations about the nature of gambling behavior, the nation will make significant strides in ending the stigma tied to this addiction.

The Rollout of Gambling Sector Reforms

In an effort to clean up the £14 billion-per-year industry’s image, the UK government has set its sight on overhauling the 2005 Gambling Act. Gambling operators across the country brace themselves for stricter gambling regulations, which are expected to hit their profits hard, and, in the worst case, force some profitable players to close their doors.

Operators only hope that the fall in the UK’s gambling problem rate from 0.6% in 2020 to 0.3% last year, as suggested by the Gambling Commission’s data, would prompt the government to soften its new regulatory approach.

The government’s promised review of the existing gambling regulations, and possibilities of more stringent interventions to mitigate problem gambling harms and protect vulnerable populations, present a significant opportunity for positive change.

Until the state takes a big step forward, though, the level of harmful gambling across the country is likely to worsen before it gets better.