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The Independent Online
There are, according to a paper delivered at last month's First European Conference on Gambling and Policy Issues, held in Cambridge, between 800,000 and 1.75m people at risk of becoming problem gamblers. And, not surprisingly, it's the National Lottery that is causing the problem.

All psychologists agree that one of the crucial factors in addiction- forming is a short time-gap between investment and reward. That is why scratch cards are doing so well and lottery video terminals will do even better when they are introduced. But the weekly lottery draw has a bonus addictive number: the "heart-stopper" effect of feeling that you've nearly won when you are only one number short of a prize. Thanks to that, even losing can enhance addiction.

With 30 million lottery tickets sold every Saturday alone, the message of the conference was that we are turning into a nation of lottery junkies. The disturbing evidence is that it does not stop there. British travel companies are reporting an increase of between 20 and 40 per cent in trips booked to Las Vegas this year.

Is there any solution, or has the lottery taken too strong a grip? Delegates were generally optimistic, with self-help manuals for potential addicts and education on the realities of gambling, both having proved effective in pilot studies.

With even the Home Office now showing an increasing awareness of the potential awakening of hordes of latent pathological gamblers, the day may not be far off when every lottery ticket carries a mandatory Government socio-economic health warning.

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