NHS Warns Gambling Problems Could Rise

The NHS has warned that the coronavirus outbreak could trigger a new wave of problem gambling in the UK. As the British public settles into life in isolation, levels of addiction and debt related to gambling could rise. The stark warning has come from the Leeds NHS clinic, which expects to see an increase in referrals for gambling addiction.

A red ambulance speeds down a road.

Experts warn that isolation, financial problems and stress during the coronavirus pandemic could exacerbate problem gambling. ©Camilo Jimenez/Unsplash

Coronavirus to Blame

There are a number of reasons why COVID-19 could be creating the perfect storm for those who struggle to control gambling. As many sporting events have been canceled, there are fewer wagering options available for sports bettors. However, this means that many are turning their sights to other, more addictive forms of gambling.

“There are a range of risk factors in place at the moment: social isolation, boredom, stress, financial and job insecurity and the opportunity to gamble online. While a lot of sports betting has stopped, we are expecting a rise in referrals further down the line. It takes time for gambling harm to spread across someone’s life and for them to realize they have a problem.”Matthew Gaskell, Clinical Lead, NHS Northern Gambling Service

Online casinos are expected to see increased traffic, as punters swap betting on football for playing slots and other casino games. Operators who run both sports betting and casino gambling have been attempting to divert customers to make up for losses.

Critics have cautioned against this type of marketing behavior, as it could take advantage of vulnerable people. Many Britons are facing financial insecurity, as jobs have been furloughed or lost altogether. While gambling might serve as an entertaining pastime, disposable cash is not a luxury that many have anymore.

In response, the Advertising Standards Agency has said that gambling ads will face increased scrutiny. It has also asked gambling companies to make sure that their advertising meets set standards. This means that ads should not target under-18s and should not ‘exploit vulnerabilities’.

Whether the increase in online casino ads is viewed as necessary for operators’ survival or grasping behavior, one thing is certain; it is the consumer that will be affected. While the pandemic continues, the NHS Northern Gambling Service will offer video support for those who need help.

Detailing the impact of COVID-19 on gambling addicts, clinical lead Matthew Gaskell has explained that the current climate means that many are now facing increased risk. “We are concerned that the next wave of gambling addiction will happen under these circumstances and that customers are not being adequately protected”.

Anyone who thinks that they, or someone that they know, might have a gambling problem can seek support and advice from a number of helpful charities. For example, BeGambleAware offers support and advice on gambling responsibly.

Gamstop is a service that allows gamblers to self-exclude from all UK licensed gambling sites and apps in one go. Since March 31st, the Gambling Commission has made it mandatory for all UK operators to sign up to Gamstop.

BGC Announces 10 Pledges

The Betting and Gaming Council, an organization that represents around 90% of the UK’s gambling industry, has outlined a boosted set of standards for members to adhere to during the pandemic. The action plan consists of 10 pledges, which build on the pre-existing safer gambling pledges put in place when it launched last year.

The new set of pledges is designed to take into account the changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic. These pledges aim to safeguard those made more vulnerable to gambling harms by home-working or social distancing.

According to Michael Dugher, the BGC’s chief executive, it is vital that commitments to safer gambling are stepped up during this crisis. “It is important that we help our customers stay safe and in control of their gambling during these difficult times”.

The 10 pledges are:

  • 1. Increase safer gambling messages across all sites and direct to all customers
  • 2. Step up interventions if customers increase time and spend beyond normal pre-crisis patterns
  • 3. Actively promote deposit limits
  • 4. Action to ensure appropriate and responsible advertising including monitoring volume
  • 5. Report all illegal, rogue advertising from black market online operators
  • 6. One-strike-and-you’re-out policy where affiliates breach pledges
  • 7. Signpost help to GAMCARE and the National Gambling Helpline and GamStop for self-exclusion
  • 8. Commitment to ensuring funding for Research Education and Treatment (RET)
  • 9. Welfare checks and well-being help for staff
  • 10. Supporting the Government’s ‘National Effort’ with volunteers and facilities

“In this time of national crisis, with so many people self-isolating and social distancing at home, it is vital that we do everything possible to ensure safer gambling and to protect potentially vulnerable or at risk people.”Michael Dugher, Chief Executive, Betting and Gaming Council

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