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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Paul MacInnes

Young adults taking worrying gambling risks, according to new research

Bookmakers betting stands at Cheltenham.
Bookmakers betting stands at Cheltenham. Photograph: David Davies for The Jockey Club/PA

Nearly half of all gamblers between the ages of 18 and 24 say they have risked more than they could afford to lose, one of a series of shocking statistics regarding younger gamblers revealed by new research.

Of young adults who had gambled in the past 12 months, 42% said they had taken financial risks in doing so, while 36% said they had either borrowed money or sold possessions in order to place a bet.

In other findings, a majority of gamblers aged 18-24 said they felt guilty about their behaviour, while 39% said they had experienced mental health problems in the past year related to their gambling. One-third of those surveyed said they had gambled on sport.

Recent statistics have shown a decline in the number of young adults gambling, with the Gambling Commission in March reporting that 28.9% of those aged 16-24 had gambled in the previous month, down from 35.8% in the equivalent period in 2019. But the latest research suggests that the concerns of young people who continue to bet are far greater than those among older cohorts.

The figures were recorded by Ipsos and commissioned by GambleAware, the industry-funded body. They will concern those working to prevent gambling harm in the UK and heighten calls for change. One of the proposals mooted as part of the government’s Gambling Reform Act had been a series of protections for gamblers under 25, including a limit on the size of stakes allowed in online casinos. Already long-delayed, the GRA was not mentioned in the king’s speech last month.

GambleAware is an independent charity and describes itself as the “strategic commissioner of gambling harm education”. Last year, the NHS stepped back from a “dual funding” relationship with GambleAware for the National Gambling Treatment Service, citing complaints from patients.

The CEO of GambleAware, Zoë Osmond, has described gambling as “a serious public health issue” and the organisation’s research comes as it seeks to strengthen that idea in the public imagination.

GambleAware is advocating a greater emphasis on communication, encouraging those who have experienced gambling harm to talk about it. The survey reports that nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) who had experienced a problem with their gambling had never spoken to anyone about their concerns.

GambleAware also advocate a change in language around gambling harm, encouraging people to “avoid pathologising” those with problems, to avoid words like ‘addict’ or ‘binge’ and to “encourage shared responsibility in looking for solutions”.

Osmond said: “As a hidden addiction, gambling harms can be incredibly hard to spot from the outside. It is therefore critical that people impacted are aware of the wide range of support services available, and that they feel safe to come forward.

“Anyone can be impacted by gambling harms, but the first step is to open up and have that first conversation, ideally as early as possible.”

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