Why healthcare services have a problem with gambling

Image of electronic gambling machines.

“I have a problem with gambling. There’s not enough of it.”

Dr  Sean Cowlishaw, Research Fellow at the Centre for Academic Primary Care, University of Bristol

That was the admission from billionaire Steve Wynn, a major figure in the casino industry, speaking at a recent gambling research conference in (where else?) Las Vegas. And sure, it made for a good quote. But it’s also a rather glib dismissal of a serious issue that affects many thousands of people across the world.

The UK certainly has a problem with gambling. At least it has since 2007, when laws were changed to allow for huge growth in gambling opportunities and exposure. It has been hard to ignore the subsequent explosion in industry advertising, which increased by around 500% between 2007 and 2013. By contrast, you may have missed the increased numbers of high intensity electronic gambling machines, called Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), which now occupy the high street (within betting shops) and allow punters to wager up to £100 every 20 seconds.

Yet Britain doesn’t have much insight into its problem with gambling. Compared to most other addictive behaviours, involving drugs or alcohol for example, gambling is largely ignored by health services and public health agencies. This is partly because gambling is a hidden concern. It does not manifest with physical warning signs. Indicators are usually visible in extreme cases only, and generally following major life crises such as extreme debt or relationship breakdown. Continue reading

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