Lurid tabloid headlines have warned of the dangers that await
the UK if proposed changes to its gambling laws are carried out. If
they are to be believed, Las Vegas-style casinos could wreak havoc
with the “British way of life”.
But the increasing use of the internet, interactive TV and
mobile phones as gaming tools are already creating problematic new
opportunities for gambling addictions to take hold here, say the
proposals’ critics. This is especially so for the 16 to 24 age
group which is four times as likely to develop a problem as the
Without appropriate regulation, as promised by the Gambling
Bill, the experts fear that authorities will lose their chance to
manage gaming and its risks.
Also likely to drive up the incidence of UK gambling problems is
the increasing availability of gambling opportunities that are
“literally around the corner”, says Adrian Scarfe, clinical
practice manager for GamCare, a charity which provides counselling
services and a helpline for gamblers.
“A lot of the media emphasis has been on this kind of Las
Vegas-style casino and such,” says Scarfe. “But most of our
hardcore work is still with people who get involved in betting, or
with machines in betting shops, fruit machines. These are very
addictive forms of gambling. The availability of gambling is my
main worry – and its location.”
Now five years old, the British Gambling Prevalence Study by the
National Centre for Social Research found that between
275,000-375,000 people in the UK were problem gamblers. Although,
these are still the most up-to-date figures new forms of gaming
have become available since the study. GamCare’s helpline, which
provides professional counselling to problem gamblers 24 hours a
day, seven days a week, received 30,000 calls in 2003.
GamCare trains counsellors at 10 partner agencies across the UK
to work with gamblers, as well as educating teachers, prison
workers and other groups with an interest in learning more about
the so-called hidden addiction. GamCare also counsels up to 80
clients a week at its London offices.
What lies ahead for the British problem gambling climate depends
on the future of the Gambling Bill. Within the past year, GamCare
has also found itself the focus of attention from international
gaming interests hoping to obtain a foothold in the UK casino
market, in part by signifying their potential to be socially
In countries where gambling has been up and running for years, such
as the US and South Africa, gaming companies are quick to point out
that they plough some of the revenue raised into gambling addiction
treatment services. However, some would argue that without the
gambling opportunities, fewer services would be needed.
So demonstrating social responsibility will be critical for the
success of any such gaming interests in securing one of the highly
sought after casino licences – if and when the Gambling Bill is
While a panel will choose the locations for the eight so-called
regional casinos – the largest of the casinos to be developed –
local authorities will have a say in where the smaller casinos are
built. And experts are concerned that an interest in regenerating
downtrodden areas may lead to the exposure of vulnerable
populations to easily accessible and convenient gambling.
UK gambling expert Peter Collins, who has helped start a problem
gaming services programme in South Africa, says that if he could
impose any requirements he would locate casinos outside population
centres. And he wants to see the use of smart card technology to
set limits on how much people gamble. “With cashpoints, there’s
only so much money you can take out in a day, for instance,” he
Whether or not the bill is enacted, problem gambling services in
the UK will have to move forward in several ways, including
providing targeted services for minority groups. “We prefer that
the bill will go through,” says Scarfe, “simply because it provides
a good basis of regulation and makes rather more sense to bring
everything up to date. And we will grow because a larger number
will need help.”
Working with the addicted
In the past 12 months the number of applications for a place at
the Gordon House Association, the only specialist residential
treatment provider for addicted gamblers in the UK, has more than
“They are the severeley addicted, not the problem gamblers,”
says managing director Faith Freestone. “Addicts are at the
severest end of the spectrum, the ones who end up homeless, jobless
and losing their families.”
The association takes addicts from all over the country, but has
just 35 beds for men in two units and three beds in a women’s only
unit. If it can’t accommodate people there is no one else to refer
them on to.
Freestone is not against the Gambling Bill or gambling itself,
but says “at a time when gambling is growing we hvae a moral and
societal responsiblity to put money into treatment”.
This is not happening. Unlike drug and alcohol treatment
services there is no NHS funding for gambling addiction treatment.
The industry can voluntarily contributre to the Responsiblity in
Gamlbing Trust which aims to raise £3m per year to fund
research, education and treatment.
But with gaming profits of billions of pounds this is a drop in
So would the bill increase the problem? “The more accessible
gambling is, the more people take part, and the more will develop
problems,” says Freestone. “It’s naive to believe that it will not
lead to an increase.”
- For more information go to www.gordonhouse.org.uk
Oregon’s Public Health Approach
Since 1993, the north western US state of Oregon has had
casinos. Owned by Native American tribes, they are smaller versions
of Las Vegas-style operations, complete with entertainment.
The state is also in the gambling business, running a lottery
system that includes standard offerings such as scratch cards and
lotto along with more than 10,000 video poker machines. The state
is now expanding its reach with video slot machines. And for good
financial reason – lottery revenues contribute 7 per cent of
Oregon’s $400m (£213m) budget.
The lottery also makes another significant contribution in
Oregon. According to Jeffrey J Marotta, problem gambling services
manager in the state’s department of human services, about 70 per
cent of the gaming problems reported to gambling addiction
specialists and counsellors in Oregon stem from the lottery and its
“The casinos are not our big issue,” says Marotta. “What we have
here in Oregon is something called ‘convenience gaming’. That
creates most of our problems.”
Oregon, however, has adopted a holistic public health approach
to dealing with its citizens’ gambling problems. Marotta
administers a fund of $2.8m a year, generated by lottery revenues,
that pays for three tiers of gambling addiction treatment services.
Recognised as having the most innovative approach to problem
gambling services in the US, Oregon also reaches out to
African-Americans and Latinos with gambling problems through
customised services as well as to state prisoners.
Marotta’s problem gambling services also benefit from the 10 per
cent of lottery revenues that is allocated to advertising and
marketing problem gaming awareness campaigns. “When the TV ads run,
calls to the help line increase by about 25 per cent.”
According to the two most recent prevalence studies, there has
been a drop from 3.3 per cent to 2.3 per cent in the population
with a gambling problem between 1998 and 2001. “With the public
health approach, we’re not necessarily stopping people from
gambling. We’re reducing the harm it causes the person, their
family and their communities,” says Marotta.