Critics have blamed recent gambling laws for a 25 per cent increase in calls to the helpline of a gambling charity.
The charity, GamCare, says the increase can be partly attributed to the fact that the helpline number is now displayed in more betting shops and on gambling machines.
The Gambling Act 2005 liberalised the law on gambling in a number of ways, most controversially by permitting large Las Vegas style casinos.
The Act also allowed advertising of gambling and on-line betting for the first time.
Experts warned the Government that the Act would lead to an increase in problem gambing, particularly among poorer people.
GamCare says that 60 per cent of callers who told the helpline operators how much they owed because of gambling revealed sums of between £6,000 and £50,000. Average debt was £17,500, up by almost £4,000 on the previous year.
Callers who disclosed difficulties caused by gambling mentioned anxiety and stress, relationship problems and financial worries.
Commenting on the figures, Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “This just shows how worrying it is that the Government has put in place absolutely no strategy to deal with problem gambling.
“At a time of increasing economic uncertainty, addictive gambling risks fuelling indebtedness. By liberalising the gambling laws the Government has made the problem worse. Something needs to be done before more lives are ruined.”
Speaking to the Daily Mail, The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “We always said relaxing the gambling laws would lead to more problems, and it gives us no pleasure to say we seem to have been proved right.
“Gambling leads to the misery of crime, family breakdown, debt, ill health and even suicide, and with the economic crisis upon us more people who have been lured into addiction will simply not be able to cope.”
Although the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey did not reveal any increase in the overall number of problem gamblers in the population, it did identify significant risk.
It showed that around 665,000 people were at moderate risk of becoming problem gamblers, and nearly 2.5 million displayed risk factors.
In February, the General Synod of the Church of England passed a motion condemning the Government’s “apparent enthusiasm for the promotion of gambling”.
Addressing the synod, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said: “The gambling industry is profoundly costly, its human pollution in terms of promoting addiction, destroying family life and so forth, is manifest. The industry needs to take responsibility.”