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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Gamblers 'need help on the NHS'
Professor Mark Griffiths
Professor Griffiths says certain people are vulnerable to gambling
GPs should be screening for gambling in the same way they ask patients how much they drink or smoke a week, leading gambling experts have warned.

"Gambling should be seen under the NHS like other addictions," said Psychology Professor Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University.

"It should be recognised in peoples' health records as a medical problem."

Professor Griffiths was speaking to Real Story which followed betting addicts in their search for treatment.

Monday, 3 April 2006
One woman, Andrea Steele, had spent thirty years playing slot machines since the age of 13.

"I get 200 a fortnight to cover everything and all that will go into the machines. I feel good when I'm playing the machines but day to day, with no money, I feel down and depressed. "

Upon finally admitting to her problem, Andrea went to her GP who gave her the numbers of several gambling charities.

She discovered that the only source of help available to her was through a Gamblers Anonymous group 10 miles away.

Relaxed rules

The British gaming industry is going through its biggest shake up since the last Gambling Act in 1968.

Faced with stiff protest, the government scaled down its plans for eight regional "super-casinos" to just one.

Most of the new changes will come into force in 2007 but some of the rules have already been relaxed.

Up until October of last year, anyone who wanted to gamble at a casino had to become a member and then wait 24 hours before placing a bet. But now anyone over the age of 18 can walk straight into a casino and start gambling immediately.

According to estimates by the British Casino Association, in the month following the changes casinos saw about 80,000 more visits.

This could translate into almost 1 m additional casino visits per year.

The Gambling Commission recently ruled that from next year, casinos and betting shops must retrain their staff to spot problem gamblers and then "encourage them to reassess their behaviour."

This might mean "excluding customers".

Professor Jim Orford
Professor Orford says anyone can become dependent on gambling
But Professor Jim Orford of Birmingham University said it was inadequate to allow the gambling industry to voluntarily monitor itself.

"One estimate is that about a third of the money made by the industry is from people who have some degree of a gambling problem so it's always going to be in two minds about whether to control what people are doing."

According to recent government research, in the UK we spend at least 1 billion every week on gambling and at least 300,000 of us are addicted to it.

However, these figures do not take online gambling into consideration.

It doesn't actually register that you've spent that much until you see your bank statement
Andrea Steele
Global betting and gaming consultants, Worwich Bartlett, told Real Story that profits made by worldwide online gambling companies have increased by more than 2,000 % since 1998.

Last year they made a total profit of 350 million.

Real Story featured another gambler, Sharon Phillips, who at her worst was loosing 300 per week on online gambling.

"It was only after I got married and had a baby and felt very isolated where we lived that I took to the websites and that's where it became a problem.

"You're not physically handing over cash. It doesn't actually register that you've spent that much until you see your bank statement."

'Zilch' treatment

Jens Anderson, also in the programme, was reduced to sleeping on a settee and making do without a fridge so that he could go straight to the betting shop with his 1,500 monthly wage.

Professor Orford said: "The facilities for the treatment of gambling are as near to zilch as make no difference.

"There is virtually nothing in terms of health authorities having anything in place."

A Department of Health spokesperson told Real Story that anyone who sought help for gambling from the NHS would be offered support.

No-one from Dept of Culture, Media and Sport was available for interview.

Real Story - Taking a Gamble: BBC ONE, Monday 3 April, 2006 at 1930 BST.

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