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Gambling addiction costs UK more than £100m a year – study

IPPR estimate includes counselling and addiction treatment for problem gamblers, but not other costs such as A&E admissions

A betting shop
Inside a betting shop. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Gambling addiction costs the UK more than £100m a year in mental health and counselling services, according to a landmark report commissioned by the charity GambleAware.

The IPPR, an independent thinktank, which will publish its findings on Tuesday, told delegates at this week’s GambleAware conference that “secondary” mental health services related to gambling cost between £30m and £110m a year.

The estimate includes programmes such as counselling and addiction treatment for up to 620,000 problem gamblers, but not a range of other costs such as A&E admissions linked to gambling issues.

The IPPR’s overall estimate of the annual bill for problem gambling will be far higher once other costs such as housing, welfare, the criminal justice system and homelessness are factored in.

The assessment of gambling’s impact on the public finances comes at an inconvenient moment for an industry that has found itself under increasing scrutiny.

A government consultation on betting machines including fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) – sometimes known as the “crack cocaine” of gambling for their addictive nature – closed this week.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling, which lobbies for a crackdown on FOBTs, said the IPPR report would lay bare the true cost of the gambling industry’s growth.

“The impact on mental health and counselling services is just one small aspect of the overall cost of gambling addiction to the economy,” it said.

“If this report’s estimates are correct then £110m is just the tip of the iceberg. The impact on GP surgeries, the NHS, employers and families are just a few, but if we look at FOBTs and betting shops in particular – they are impacting local police services and high street economies besides the wider affliction of pathological gambling.

“One aspect this report may not look at is what the campaign refers to as ‘binge gambling’, where betting shop customers in particular binge over short periods on FOBT use with a dramatic impact on their personal finances.”

FOBTs, which allow gamblers to stake £100 every 20 seconds, are controversial even within the gambling world and have even attracted criticism from the former boss of Paddy Power.

But they delivered £438m to the Treasury in taxes last year, a contribution that has been seen as a crucial bargaining chip in the industry’s case against tighter regulation.

The IPPR’s estimate of addiction costs, the most detailed undertaking of its kind in recent years, could undermine the industry’s credentials as a major benefactor to the exchequer.

Bookmakers and online betting firms have faced scrutiny amid concerns about the industry’s influence on children and the prevalence of adverts for gambling. A report by the industry regulator, the Gambling Commission, found that nearly half a million children a week gamble.

Politicians are considering clamping down on the number of adverts that can be shown during daytime TV.

The industry has massively increased its outlay on TV ads in recent years, the Guardian revealed this year. Betting firms had already spent £162m on TV ads by the end of September, double the amount seen in 2012.

Bookmakers have sought to show they are keen to address problem gambling, but a new system designed to improve checks and balances in betting shops was criticised this year.

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This entry was posted on December 8, 2016 by and tagged , , .

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