Gambling: A hidden epidemic?

11 March 2019

At a recent summit aimed at tackling gambling-related harm the effects of gambling were framed gambling as ‘a hidden epidemic’.

Written by Emma Gibbons, Vulnerable Client Team Manager at PayPlan


Speakers explained how they are seeing increasing demand to support people with online gambling addictions and how this virtual world is creating unknowing gamblers.

More worryingly, they shared how ‘gaming’, an acceptable pass time for people young and old, may actually be nurturing gambling tendencies and creating a future generation of gamblers.

Research shared by the Young Gamblers Education Trust showed how gaming platforms are mimicking those of traditional gambling environments. It also indicated that platforms are adopting similar colours and sounds ‘in-game’ to those of fruit machines and roulette wheels, how they’re using virtual currencies to offer incentives, and how the games are designed to instil a desire to continually improve performance results, encouraging people to their share success on social media.

The changing face of gambling got me thinking about PayPlan. Would these influences change the services we offer in the future? Will we see younger people being affected by gambling because they are being exposed to these environments? Will more people disclose to us that they are affected by gambling-related debt because it is more socially acceptable to talk about it?



Who is affected by Problem Gambling?

The social impact of gambling can be seen across many service providers and gambling is considered a public health concern1. Currently, 430,000 British aged over 16 years are deemed to be problem gamblers and a further 2 million are considered to be at risk of gambling addiction2.

Problem Gambling is defined as an urge to gamble continuously despite any harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop. There is a move towards calling it ‘harmful gambling’, taking into consideration the affects it can have on a person’s whole life, including their mental or physical health and their relationships with family or friends.

Kyle Stott from Birmingham City Council’s Public Health Team explained that ‘6-10 people are directly affected by a single problem gambler’. While research conducted by the University of Birmingham showed how the effects of gambling are connected with higher levels of physical and mental illness. This included drug and alcohol addiction, relationship breakdown, debt problems and involvement in criminality, such as shoplifting, assaults and sexual offences.

Could prevention be the key?

Prevention was a big topic. It was recognised that there was a lot of support available to gamblers once the problem had been identified, yet more needed to be done ‘up-stream’ to prevent ‘people from falling in’. Ian Corby, Chief Executive at GambleAware, spoke of the improvements that were needed in legislation, licensing, advertising and self-exclusion options, which would help prevent gambling-related harm.

The summit explored 3 key areas:

  • Prevention – the use of advertising and licensing to help influence controls and how changes in legislation such as fixed-odds betting terminals are small steps to making the big difference needed
  • Identification – how early identification of addiction to gambling can help, but education among adults and children would help people to get the support they need earlier and help prevent addiction
  • Support – understanding what interventions and referral pathways are in place now and how measuring the effectiveness of these would support improved and sustainable services in the future.

The summit was very open and informative. The organisations there all agreed to take a collaborative approach forward and committed to work more closely together to support prevention, as much as those with gambling addictions.

From my personal perspective, the summit made me think about PayPlan’s clients who voluntarily disclose gambling addictions and how brave they are to recognise the impact it is having on their lives. It also made me think of those clients that don’t disclose and how, by working together with other organisations, we can help to support those who are in this hidden epidemic.

The summit was held on Wednesday, 27 February at the Council House in Birmingham. Find out more, visit: Birmingham Financial Inclusion Partnership



1Gambling-related harm as a public health issue:
2Gambling Behaviour in Great Britain:


Emma Gibbons, Vulnerable Client Manager

Written by
Emma Gibbons


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