Gambling Addicts Soar by 25% under Labour's Lax Laws

Article excerpt

Byline: Ian Drury

THE number of problem gamblers seeking help has rocketed by 25 per cent since Labour controversially relaxed the laws.

Nearly 38,000 people called a betting addiction hotline last year compared with just over 30,000 in the previous year.

And the average amount of debt soared from ?13,800 to ?17,500, up nearly ?4,000 in 12 months. Seven per cent of callers admitted to owing more than ?100,000.

Critics condemned the figures as mounting evidence of the soaring levels of despair brought about by the Government's loosening of gambling regulations.

Political opponents and charities warned that the problem would only get worse as the economy went into free-fall and hardpressed families struggled to cope.

They urged Culture Secretary Andy Burnham to tighten up the laws to protect the vulnerable from getting into difficulties.

Gambling is worth in the region of ?100billion to the UK economy.

The damning figures from gambling addiction charity Gamcare follow a boom in online betting, which in turn follows a massive increase in people staking money on sports events since Labour came to power. Ministers have relaxed the rules to allow the first TV ads for casinos, bookmakers and betting websites - prompting doctors to warn of a 'devastating' surge in addiction, debt and family breakdown.

It has also become easier to join a casino or play on fixed odds terminals in betting shops. The Government has been accused of 'shameful irresponsibility' for giving the green light to 16 huge regional casinos with slot machines offering ?4,000 jackpots.

Gamcare's annual report said the record 37,806 calls to its helpline last year was a 25 per cent increase on 2006. There were also 1,407 requests for help to online advisers.

Most commonly, those seeking help were aged between 26 and 35. Worryingly, a small proportion - between 3 and 4 per cent - were under 18.

The number of women problem gamblers ringing the helpline jumped from 13 to 18 per cent to comprise nearly a fifth of callers.

Almost 60 per cent of those calling by phone were involved in gambling on fixed odds terminals, usually found in betting shops, or staking money over the counter on horses, greyhounds and football. …