Almost three quarters of adults gambled in the past year, according to statistics released in an official report.
The new report showed that 73 per cent of adults had gambled in the previous twelve months, up from 68 per cent in the equivalent 2007 report.
The figures come less than four years after the sweeping liberalisation of Britain’s gambling laws by the previous Labour Government came into force.
The report, published by The Gambling Commission, showed that buying National Lottery tickets was the most common form of gambling.
And there was a sharp rise in forms of gambling other than the lottery, up to 56 per cent of adults from 48 per cent in 2007.
The report also suggested a rise in problem gamblers to almost half a million people. It defined problem gambling as “gambling to a degree that compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits”.
Although the report’s authors said the rise may be an “upward trend or a temporary fluctuation”, the Chairman of The Gambling Commission admitted the number of problem gamblers was “probably growing”.
Brian Pomeroy said: “The survey confirms that there are a significant and growing number of people who take part in gambling.”
He added that it also “indicates that a small, but probably growing, proportion of the population have serious problems with their gambling”.
The British Gambling Prevalence Survey surveyed 7,756 adults over 16 in Scotland, England and Wales.
Reverend Ian Galloway, convener of the church and society council of the Church of Scotland commented: “I’m deeply troubled by the level of problem gambling associated with gaming machines.
“This form of gambling is solitary and repetitive. These high-value machines in betting shops turn every high street into a casino.”
The Government’s Tourism Minister, John Penrose MP, said: “The increase in problem gambling is a direct result of Labour’s reckless Gambling Act.”
However in November Mr Penrose proposed changes which would further weaken Britain’s gambling laws.
The Government consulted on plans to increase the maximum stake limit from £1 to £2 for ‘adult-only’ (B3) slot machines, and to permit the number of slot machines in adult-only arcades and bingo clubs to increase. The consultation closed last month.
Labour’s 2005 Gambling Act, which came into force in 2007, ushered in a comprehensive deregulation of gambling, including allowing advertising and online betting for the first time.
At the time of the Act, The Christian Institute and others warned the legislation would lead to an increase in problem gambling.
Since the time of the Act charities that help gambling addicts have reported an increase in cases.
In response to the new report, Labour Peer Lord Hattersley hit out at the Gambling Act saying “the relaxation of the gambling laws in Britain, combined with the betting industry’s new right to advertise, entices the least well-off to waste what little they have”.
He continued: “To my mind, the Government of 2007 were only too well aware of what the consequences would be in terms of the number of people that would be sucked into gambling: the looser the regulations governing casinos, online gambling and fruit machines, the higher the number who would use them.”
And Lord Hattersley said: “We must consider the social damage that gambling causes and the cost to the nation in lives ruined, families destroyed and hopes shattered.”