Young people and ethnic minorities are being lured into betting shops by welcoming surroundings and high-speed betting machines, researchers say.
Gambling laws were watered down in 2005, allowing betting shops to present themselves in more appealing ways.
In addition, betting shops were formally allowed to have ‘fixed odds betting terminals’ (FOBTs) – dubbed the “crack cocaine” of gambling.
In 2005 The Christian Institute warned that weakening the law would increase the levels of problem gambling and damage society.
Now analysts from Glasgow University say gambling has become “normalised”, with FOBTs being particularly risky in terms of problem gambling.
Professor Gerda Reith, of Glasgow University, said: “Compared with some forms of gambling such as horse races or even casino table games, betting machine games are extremely quick, the stakes are high and the losses can very quickly become higher.”
Psychologists confirm that allowing betting shops to be presented in an attractive way would contribute to making gambling more socially acceptable.
Psychotherapist Adrianna Irvine said: “You have to be really dedicated [to go to a betting shop] if it’s really uncomfortable, it reeks of smoke [and] it’s covered in trashed pieces of paper from all the receipts.”
She said that a comfortable, airy betting shop could be a tempting place to go for an unemployed 19-year-old man who was already drinking heavily and looking to make some money.
But the gambling industry rejects the suggestion that FOBTs are dangerous.
Tom Kenny, of the Association of British Bookmakers, said: “We’ve not seen any evidence that links gambling machines in betting shops to an increase in problem gambling among young people or any other age group”.
Last year, a GamCare study showed that 60,000 children between the ages of 12 and 15 in Britain were compulsive gamblers, largely due to online gambling.
The charity, which gives help, advice and treatment to problem gamblers, said the rate of adolescent addicts is over three times as high as adult addicts.