Doctors in the UK have warned the NHS is “picking up the tab” for the online betting industry with NHS gambling clinics filling up with “young men in football shirts” who have fallen foul of “predatory tactics” by betting firms.
“There has been an increase in people turning up at A&E in crisis, in a state of suicide,” Matthew Gaskell, a consultant psychologist and clinical lead at NHS Northern Gambling Service, told The Times, with other doctors the paper spoke to highlighting a rise in addictive “in-play” sports betting.
The news comes amid growing fears that the football World Cup will see gambling addiction get even more out of control in the UK and US.
‘Desperate and deluded’
Data seen by The Times showed that 599 patients have been referred to NHS gambling clinics in the past six months, a 42% increase on the same period last year and up 65% from 2020-21.
Doctors told the paper that the growing problem has also been seen at casualty departments, where more patients are attending A&E after losing all their money in online betting sprees.
The “advent of modern technology” and “ubiquitous nature” of mobile phones has given “legions of fans” 24/7 access to betting websites, said Marketing Beat. In 2020, GambleAware found that 96% of 11- to 24-year-olds are exposed to gambling marketing activities and concluded that “exposure to gambling is becoming part of everyday life for children and young people”.
While many people gamble responsibly and harmlessly, the majority of profits come from a small percentage of gamblers. Writing about her own addiction to gambling, The Guardian’s Hannah Jane Parkinson noted that just 5% of customers are responsible for 70% of betting companies’ revenue. She described these customers as “desperate and deluded, entirely numb to the outside world, watching their entire life fall apart”.
There are fears that the football World Cup will see a surge in betting. According to a YouGov Direct study in the Daily Mail, roughly 50% of sports gamblers in the country said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to bet on the tournament. Meanwhile, in the US, Americans are expected to bet $1.8 billion on this year’s World Cup, which is the first to be held after sports betting has been widely legalised in the US.
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s mental health director, said gambling firms should “think hard about the human cost that can be behind their profits”, but, back in March, the NHS said it would no longer accept cash from the gambling industry to fund treatment of addicts, stating that “predatory tactics from gambling companies are part of the problem, not the solution”.
The Betting and Gaming Council, which represents Britain’s betting firms, insists it is helping pick up the bill, “unlike the alcohol industry, which hands the NHS the bill for problems associated with alcohol”. It told The Times its members had pledged £100m for research, education and treatment between 2019 and next year.
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