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Indy Lifestyle Online
Imagine a young woman going into a newsagent four or five times a day and buying a sheaf of scratch cards. Her hands are shaking, her face is twitching. The newsagent hands her a slip of paper giving the number of a gamblers' hotline, which any gambler with a problem can ring, for help. Impossible? Unworkable?

A scheme now operating in the Netherlands is specifically designed to help compulsive gamblers in casinos. The scheme, as far as I know, is unique. Casino staff are trained to watch out for players who seem to be in trouble and offer them help. The sufferers may be put in touch with a centre offering therapy, though a more practical and immediate remedy is to restrict such players' entry to the casino to, say, once a week, or even to bar them altogether.

Among the self-congratulations on the first anniversary of the National Lottery here, a crucial question went missing. What is being done, if anything, to help gamblers? The Treasury is getting a 12 per cent slice of our money, thank you very much, which came to some pounds 528m in the first year. Is it using any of this money to help people understand the lottery? To discover what effect it is having on our national life? Answer: "Not specifically."

The last people given any consideration when it comes to gaming regulation are gamblers themselves. Yet they are the people who are at the bottom of the good causes' crock of gold. It is obvious that some players risk becoming compulsive gamblers, particularly on scratch cards. It may be only a tiny minority who are vulnerable, just as only a tiny minority of drinkers may become alcoholics. But if the total is increasing, shouldn't they be helped?

The Department of Heritage, which runs the lottery, is primarily interested in household spending figures. Virginia Bottomley, who has spent so long boning up on the health service, may not realize that gambling, like smoking, should carry a government health warning. There ought, at the very least, to be a gamblers' hotline so that people in trouble can get help.

Why shouldn't every scatch card carry such a number? I am all in favour of people gambling as often as they want, as much as they want. But what are the authorities doing to deal with the fall-out from the lottery?

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