Number of UK problem gamblers seeking help soars in lockdown

Charity says monthly interactions rise from 30 to 1,000 and flag a coming ‘storm’

The coronavirus lockdown has triggered a huge rise in problem gamblers seeking help, indicating “the first signs of a storm”, according to a leading addiction charity.

The Gordon Moody Association, which runs residential treatment programmes for people with a severe gambling disorder, said the number of interactions with problem gamblers had increased from 30 a month to 1,000 a month during the period from April to June. The number of calls from people expressing suicidal thoughts reached five a day at the peak of the lockdown.

The calls typically came from former residents or people considering whether to refer themselves, the charity’s chief executive, Matthew Hickey, said.

“We did feel that we were likely to experience a major storm because of the coronavirus crisis, and now we think that the reality is that these figures may yet be the first signs of the storm,” he said. “Now that we’re moving into the second quarter of 2020, we’re definitely seeing an upsurge in numbers.”

The charity said the number of young people and women inquiring about treatment or seeking advice had increased.

The figures tally with data suggesting that while overall gambling rates fell during lockdown owing to the absence of sporting events, activity among regular customers increased, and online casino revenues grew.

On Thursday, Ladbrokes’ owner, GVC, reported net revenues in the second quarter had fallen 22% but online income had increased by 20%. Web-based casino games have a far higher rate of addiction than sports betting at high street bookmakers, according to multiple studies.

Data released by the Gambling Commission in May found that that while sports bets fell by 31% during lockdown, the use of online slot machines was up 25%, online poker grew by 38% and betting on virtual sports soared by 40%.

Nearly two-thirds of “engaged” gamblers – those who spend money on three or more betting products a month – increased the time or money they spent, according to YouGov, and a poll by Survation showed similar results.

Hickey said he hoped more intense scrutiny of problem gambling would help reduce stigma that prevents addicts from accessing treatment.

“I think in the same way that 10 to 15 years ago mental health became something people started to speak openly about, then I hope we can seize this opportunity to ensure that the stigma around gambling addiction – the hidden addiction – will disappear and people will feel that they can seek the help that they need and not hide away.”


Rob Davies

The GuardianTramp

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