An in-depth investigation by The Times has revealed that gambling addiction in the UK is such a serious problem that the NHS has started prescribing drugs to the worst addicts.
It also found that there has been a marked increase in the use of controversial Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), and that they are being used by criminals to launder money.
An editorial stated that: “The rise of fixed-odds betting terminals is a scourge of impoverished neighbourhoods and vulnerable families”.
According to the investigation, the London-based National Problem Gambling Clinic has started prescribing a drug called naltrexone – designed to combat drug and alcohol addiction.
Last year, more than 1,000 problem gamblers were referred to the clinic by their GPs.
The newspaper also cited figures from gambling counselling charity GamCare, showing that in 2015, 20,000 callers said they were suffering from financial difficulties or relationship breakdown. Almost 4,000 told the charity that their physical or mental health had suffered.
The rise of FOBTs, often described as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling, is considered a major factor in the increase in gambling addiction.
GamCare has reported a 50 per cent rise in calls concerning the machines over the last five years. The charity estimates that there are more than 560,000 gambling addicts in the UK.
The rise of fixed-odds betting terminals is a scourge of impoverished neighbourhoods and vulnerable families.The Times
The Times also reports that criminals are using the betting terminals as a way of laundering millions of pounds of drug money every year.
More than 600 reports of suspected money laundering have been made to the National Crime Agency or the Gambling Commission over the last year.
Adrian Parkinson, from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, said bookmakers are effectively charging a fee for money laundering, and making profits on the proceeds.
He said: “The machines allow customers to stake £100 every 20 seconds so a criminal can clean thousands of pounds of drug money every hour.”
In its editorial The Times urged the Government to tackle the problem, stating that 55 per cent of the gambling industry’s revenue is made up of proceeds from FOBTs.
Comparing gambling addiction to drug abuse, the editorial concluded that: “FOBTs are drug delivery machines and should be regulated as such.”
The Times investigation also noted: “Whitehall insiders say the £400 million annual tax take from FOBTs has hardened resistance to a crackdown in the Treasury.”
In November last year the Cabinet Office blocked a review of the machines, prompting anger from Conservative MPs.