Greg Wright: Gambling can be a destructive obsession that ruins families

There are growing concerns about vulnerable people developing a gambling problem. Picture: JPI Media
There are growing concerns about vulnerable people developing a gambling problem. Picture: JPI Media
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In a perfect world, gambling would be a harmless pastime; a source of  short-term joy or mild displeasure.

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But for some people it can become a dark, destructive obsession which wrecks marriages and destroys families. If you’ve got a gambling problem, there are many ways in which the modern world throws temptation into your path. The big firms are keen to highlight the steps they are taking to encourage responsible gambling. But the evidence suggests there is no room for complacency.
Record numbers of gamblers complained to the industry regulator last year. The 8,266 grievances lodged with the Gambling Commission in 2018 included 2,135 allegations that betting firms failed in their social responsibilities to customers, as well as 2,227 cases of “non payment”. Some 109 people said they objected to unsolicited marketing, while 25 complained that an advert “appealed to children”.
The figure was the largest on record since the Gambling Commission’s remit was expanded to include online activity in November 2014 - coinciding with a vast increase in the number of cases reported by customers.
Figures released to BBC Panorama under freedom of information laws show there were 273 complaints in 2011, 228 in 2012 and 169 in 2013, before the Gambling Commission began regulating online betting.
In 2015, the first full year of its expanded role, the regulator dealt with 4,291 complaints. This rose again to around 8,100 the following year, before dropping to 6,224 the year after. There were 5,587 complaints made between January 1 2019 and July 8 this year, the figures showed.
Marc Etches, chief executive of GambleAware, said: “With millions of people gambling each year and with gambling activity being highly accessible online, through smartphones and other mobile devices, gambling operators need to actively promote safer gambling messages and campaigns.”
Gambling companies have come under the spotlight repeatedly in recent years, with then-sports minister Tracey Crouch resigning in 2018 over the Government’s delayed introduction of new limits on stakes for fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
A £2 cap on FOBTs was brought in four months ago as part of efforts to reduce gambling-related harm. Last month, five of the UK’s biggest gambling companies committed to a series of measures to address problem gambling, including a major increase in funding for addiction, following Government pressure.
The companies - Bet365, Paddy Power-owner Flutter, Ladbrokes-owner GVC, Sky Betting & Gaming, and William Hill - agreed the proposals to create a safer gambling environment after discussions with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The gambling firms will significantly increase their financial support for safer gambling, increasing their commitment from 0.1 per cent of their gross gambling yield to 1 per cent by 2023.
This will result in roughly £60 million in funding support from the firms in 2023, and it will remain at that level for the future. It’s heartening to see the big firms taking this issue seriously. But, as the market expands, it will probably become harder to protect everyone who develops a gambling problem.
There are an estimated 23 million people in Britain who gamble, with 10.5 million said to gamble online. The big firms must commit more resources to ensure that vulnerable people are not sucked into the cycle of despair that comes with a gambling addiction.

GamCare operates the National Gambling HelpLine, providing information, advice and support for anyone affected by problem gambling across Great Britain. Their advisers are available seven days a week from 8am – Midnight on Freephone 0808 8020 133 or via web chat at www.gamcare.org.uk.

It also offer a range of free treatment in 120 locations across England, Scotland and Wales, as well as a moderated forum and daily chatrooms so that people can speak to others experiencing similar issues and seek support.