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Study shows 250,000 problem gamblers in UK 19/09/2007
David Batty

There are more than 250,000 problem gamblers in Britain, according to research published today. The figure represents around 0.6% of the adult population, the same proportion identified in the last major gambling study eight years ago.

The Gambling Commission report found that around 32 million people - 68% of adults - took part in some form of gambling in the past year. This compared with 33 million people - 72% of adults - in the 1999 survey.

The fall was largely due to fewer people buying National Lottery tickets. Although the lottery remains the most popular gambling activity, the proportion of people taking part has fallen from 65% in 1999 to 57% this year.

British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007
British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007
The other most popular gambling activities were scratchcards, bought by 20% of adults, betting on horse races (17%), and playing slot machines (14%). Other gambling included playing bingo (7%), internet gambling (6%), betting on dog races (5%), betting in a casino (4%), and using fixed-odds betting terminals (3%).

The Gambling Commission chairman, Peter Dean, said: "The key message is that overall there has been surprisingly little change either in the number of gambling participants or to the number of problem gamblers since 1999.

"We remain concerned that there are still over a quarter of a million adults who are problem gamblers."

One of the report's authors, Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University, warned that the number of problem gamblers could still rise due to the Gambling Act 2005, which came into effect this month.

The legislation gives casinos and online-gambling sites greater freedom to advertise, which Prof Griffiths said would "stimulate people to gamble".

The static level of problem gambling appears at odds with the number of calls taken by the charity GamCare, which helps individuals in difficulty from gambling or their friends and relatives.

GamCare registered more than 30,000 calls to its helpline last year, a rise of 33.9% on 2005. The charity predicts it will take 40,000 calls this year.

Anthony Jennens, the GamCare chairman, said: "All surveys are more or less accurate but to suggest that this captures everyone is ridiculous. Many are gambling on overseas websites, so I'm not sure how you'd assess their numbers."

Gambling is seen as problematic when it is harmful to a person's family or personal life. Symptoms include chasing losses, using gambling as a form of escapism, and being unable to cut back on the amount of gambling.

The rate of problem gambling in Britain is higher than in Norway; similar to that of Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland; but lower than in Australia, South Africa, the US, Singapore, and Hong Kong, the commission says.