An adrenaline rush that could result in six-figure debts

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Indy Politics

Four years ago, before an acknowledged explosion in gambling in Britain, as many as 400,000 people were said to have a problem with betting.

Four years ago, before an acknowledged explosion in gambling in Britain, as many as 400,000 people were said to have a problem with betting.

The research - the last extensive study to be conducted - estimated that 0.8 per cent of the adult population was struggling with addiction.

Adrian Scarfe, a clinical practice manager for the charity GamCare, has no doubt that a new study would produce more frightening figures. Some have suggested it could reach 700,000 by 2010.

He regularly sees addicts who have run up six-figure debts, wrecked their marriages and careers or descended into deep depression. Some are successful businessmen addicted to the adrenaline rush, others are housewives escaping difficult lives, one was a 12-year-old boy who had started betting on playground games.

Today 70 per cent of the population has gambled, including through the National Lottery, with revenue last year at £8.7bn.

Mr Scarfe likens betting to drink in how it can affect people in vastly different ways. While some people are social gamblers, others are regulars who nevertheless keep the hobby under control. But for some, betting can become a problem while the unluckiest become pathological gamblers.

The most common way to develop a serious habit is to "chase" the losses or bet again, he says. Statistically, hyperactive people, those who start young, have gamblers in the family or win early are most likely to become hooked. Eighteen to 24-year-olds are deemed to be the most vulnerable and three or four times more likely to become addicted.

The reasons why some people are drawn under and others are not are complex, Mr Scarfe says. For some addicts, particularly women, it is a form of escape. For others, more com- monly men, it is a way of seeking excitement. "It has been shown that the heart rate is as high as someone about to do a bungee jump, particularly in those who bet huge sums of money," he said. Other addicts may be highly competitive or risk takers.

Britain now has the dubious distinction of having one of the biggest gambling problems in the world, after the United States and Australia.

There has been a recent gaming "explosion" with some estimates suggesting that there has been a fivefold increase in betting in the past three years. Mr Scarfe says the introduction of the National Lottery 10 years ago has popularised gambling.

A plethora of new games, particularly on the internet, has helped to exacerbate the situation. Internet poker, spread betting, roulette machines and betting exchanges have surged in popularity.

But Mr Scarfe added: "It is not all doom and gloom. Some people grow out of it or give it up spontaneously. But there is a hard core of addicts and that will always be, legislation or no legislation."