Britain's gambling problem multiplies online

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By Louise Barnett

More than 250,000 people in Britain are problem gamblers, according to a new report from the Gambling Commission.

Problem gamblers are now estimated at 0.6 per centof the adult population.

It is roughly the the same percentage shown in the last detailed study eight years ago. But among those involved in online betting the rate rises tenfold to six per cent and 7.4 per cent for online gamblers.

The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007 has prompted fresh concerns about a recent overhaul of gambling laws which gave operators greater freedom to advertise. The study, of 9,003 people aged 16 and over, was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research between September last year and March.

This means it does not reflect the full impact of the Gambling Act 2005, much of which did not come into force until earlier this month. The Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said the report "demonstrates conclusively just how wide off the mark the Government's gambling policy is".

The Liberal Democrat Culture, Media and Sport spokesman, Don Foster, said: "The report does raise some serious concerns about the dramatic rise in the number of online gamblers and that's before we've seen the expected increase as a result of the recent liberalisation of gambling advertising."

Some 32 million people gambled in the past year, the report stated. The most popular wager is on the National Lottery with 57 per cent of people taking part – down from 65 per cent in the 1999 study.

Scratch cards were the second most popular, with 20 per cent of people buying them, followed by 17 per cent who bet on horse races and 14 per cent who played slot machines. Overall, 71 per cent of men gamble and 65 per cent of women.

Peter Dean, the Gambling Commission's chairman, said: "Problem gambling has largely been unchanged since 1999 but we remain concerned about the upwards of a quarter of a million people whose lives are harmed by gambling.

The Culture minister Gerry Sutcliffe, who has asked the commission to review the gambling industry's voluntary funding for problem gambling research and treatment, said: "The Gambling Act has brought in tough regulatory powers. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and will not hesitate to regulate further if needed."