Casualties of recession turn to gambling

THE failing economy is being blamed for a massive increase in problem gambling in Scotland as desperate punters bank on a big win to ease their financial woes.

Scotland on Sunday can reveal that the number of people attending Gamblers' Anonymous (GA) north of the border has increased by 20% in the past six months, with 900 problem gamblers attending sessions each month compared with 750 in June.

The group says many young men are becoming addicted to playing roulette machines.

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Psychologists running the RCA Trust, a Scotland-wide organisation that helps gambling addicts, says the recession has contributed to an increase in the number of people attending its clinics. Over the past six months, the number of troubled gamblers seeking help has doubled from 60 to 120 per month.

Alex Crawford, a psychologist and chief executive of the RCA Trust, said: "I am entirely confident that we are going to see an awful lot more in the months to come, because when more sensible options for raising money starts closing down, then gambling becomes much more attractive."

A GA spokesman said: "Our numbers are growing on a weekly basis. A lot of younger men in their late teens and early 20s are getting themselves into debt and losing their wages on roulette machines.

"There has been a massive growth in the number of people using roulette machines. I call it the crack cocaine of gambling."

Those figures only scratch the surface, because research has shown that for every person who admits that they have a problem there are hundreds more who do not seek help.

It has been estimated that there are 280,000 problem gamblers in the UK, of which 25,000 are in Scotland – more than those with drug problems.

One reformed gambler, who attends GA meetings, told Scotland on Sunday that he ran up 25,000 worth of debt on 10 credit cards in order to finance his addiction to poker schools based in casinos and 24-hour online gambling.

"I was just chasing the money all the time and I could have kept going," he said. "Because of the job I had, I could get more and more credit cards. Thankfully, I knew that something was wrong. It was like a bug. I was a pathological and compulsive gambler and (then] I did something about it."

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For others, the problem has become even worse, with some wealthy businessmen spending millions on their habit.

Counsellors say that in one case, a woman with no history of gambling problems logged on to her computer and after one hour of online gambling had lost 20,000 and was hooked.

In addition to economic hardship, the easy accessibility of online gambling and the liberalisation of gambling advertising and casino opening laws as a result of the 2005 Gambling Act has contributed to the growth of the problem. Around 10bn is estimated to be spent by punters on gambling per year in Britain.

Gerda Reith, an academic at Glasgow University who conducts research into gambling, was in no doubt that the credit crunch had acted as a catalyst for gamblers.

"People can be spurred on to attempt to make something out of nothing when times are bad. Something urges them to try their luck.

When times are bad economically, people think they can get in there and change their luck."

Gambling has been a controversial political issue. One of the first acts of Gordon Brown's premiership was to ditch plans for the supercasino, which had been launched by Tony Blair.

Gaming laws are reserved to Westminster, but the Scottish Government yesterday urged those who were gambling too much seek help for their problem.

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A spokesman for Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Minister, said: "It is important that people access the help that's available to them."

The overall rise in gambling this year has included a 181m growth in National Lottery ticket sales.

Britain's leading bookmakers were anxious to downplay suggestions that the recession was leading to a growth in gambling.

A spokesman for Ladbrokes claimed it was "not something we have experienced". He said the number of people gambling was steady, but it had seen "no increase".

Graham Sharpe of William Hill said: "I would say it is impossible for anyone to quantify why people are gambling."