Gambling addiction is a growing problem in the UK and should be treated on the NHS, doctors have urged.
The British Medical Association (BMA) says it is ‘particularly worried’ about adolescent gamblers and wants a review of whether slot machine gambling should be restricted to over 18s.
It says addiction to fruit machines can lead to truancy, stealing and aggressive behaviour. Studies have also shown that teenage gambling often goes hand in hand with drug taking, alcohol abuse and juvenile crime.
A previous study of more than 8,000 adolescents found that 17 per cent played fruit machines at least once a week, and the problem was worse among young men.
Other research showed that up to 6 per cent of adolescent fruit machine players are ‘pathological gamblers’.
The BMA’s report – Gambling Addiction and its Treatment Within the NHS – said the overhaul of gambling laws this autumn is predicted to lead to an increase in the number of addicts.
Remote gambling, which includes gambling via the internet, mobile phone and interactive television, has doubled since 2001 and is also identified as a cause for concern.
The BMA’s Head of Science and Ethics, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, said: ‘Problem gambling is associated with a number of health problems and the BMA is concerned that there are insufficient treatment facilities available.
‘Psychological problems can include anxiety, depression, guilt and suicidal thoughts. Relationships with family and friends can also be affected by gambling, sometimes leading to separation and divorce.
‘There needs to be treatment for problem gambling available on the NHS similar to drug and alcohol services. The BMA is calling on the Gaming Industry to pay at least £10m per annum via the Responsibility in Gambling Trust to fund research, prevention and intervention programmes.’
A statement from the Association of British Bookmakers said: ‘In spite of the conclusions and recommendations contained in the BMA report, the reality is that the gambling industry’s awareness of and response to problem gambling has never been greater.
‘It is not surprising that the number of problem gamblers recorded by the charity GamCare has risen, given that the Association of British Bookmakers has, among other things, distributed for display in every betting office in the country posters and leaflets containing information about GamCare and how to contact that organisation.’