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The Insider title

Britain's Gambling Addiction

Friday 20 July

Reformed gambling addict Jake Brindell argues that the Government is increasing the opportunity to gamble and will be responsible for creating many more addicts with devastating effects on tens of thousands of families.

Three out of four Britons gamble every week, and we lose around nine-and-a-half billion pounds every year, a figure which has doubled in just four years. With the passing of the Gambling Act these figures look set to continue rising.

Reformed gambling addict Jake Brindell argues that the Government is increasing the opportunity to gamble and will be responsible for creating many more addicts with devastating effects on tens of thousands of families.

The UK is the only country in the developed world which allows children to gamble, and young gamblers are three times more likely than adults to become addicted. Like many others, Jake got hooked when he began playing slot machines at the age of ten. After 25 years of addiction, Jake speaks from bitter experience about the huge growth of super-addictive betting terminals and talks to other addicts suffering the terrible effects of online gambling.

The Government raised almost £2 billion in taxes last year from the gambling industry and Mark Griffiths who, as the only professor on gambling in this country, advises the Government on policy, tells The Insider that Ministers haven't listened to all his concerns.

He says that the with the Gambling Act making it easier to open betting shops, most of which are in poorer areas, it will be the poor who suffer the most. Most of Britain's bookies are concentrated in the poorest neighbourhoods, like inner-city Hackney which has 95 shops. Yet, the industry wants to open more, despite local opposition. One resident tells The Insider that only one out of 400 locals who responded to his survey was in favour of a new betting shop.

Jake is particularly concerned about the increase in fixed odds betting terminals, which offer punters the chance to play casino games like roulette inside the bookies. They're extremely addictive because they're designed to make players feel they're almost winning every game, and Jake's a perfect example - he's blown more than £40,000 on them over the years. There are now around 24,000 machines, each generating up to £500 profit every week, and gaming industry consultant Warwick Bartlett tells the programme just how important they've become. He says a lot of shops wouldn't survive without them.

Alongside these terminals, the Internet is the fastest growing sector of the gaming industry and it's creating a new generation of addicts who don't have the psychological and social safety nets of going into a casino or racecourse and gambling with others and therefore find it far more difficult to stop chasing their losses. Jake relates how one night he sat at home and maxed out on one credit card after another until he couldn't get any more credit. He lost £10,000 in one night.

And, like many other addicts, Jake found it difficult to get help. With the Gambling Act deregulating and liberalising gambling, points out that that Government is failing to set up an infrastructure to help the inevitable casualties of gambling. Instead of following the example of countries like Australia which makes the industry put one per cent of its revenue towards helping addicts, the government has a non-compulsory target of £3m per year, and the industry has failed to even meet this amount.

Jake concludes that the Government is cynically choosing more gambling and more tax revenues while doing little about the problems it causes. And, as a result, out there are a whole new generation of children who could follow him down the same route of addiction and despair.

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