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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 March 2008, 06:26 GMT
Gambling firms face support levy
Internet gambling
A rising number of women are gambling online
The government has said it may force gambling companies to help fund support services for those battling addiction.

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said the number contributing to the current voluntary scheme was "unacceptable".

Only 360 gambling firms out of 3,800 have paid any money this year and if that does not improve, Mr Burnham said, a compulsory levy could be introduced.

His warning comes as experts say a rising number of women are becoming addicted to gambling.

Mr Burnham said he expected greater action on the issue of companies putting a percentage of their profits towards support services.

"Regulators, legislators, operators and owners all have a duty to act in a socially responsible manner, accepting that, for some, gambling is an addiction, not a leisure pursuit," he said.

"Unless the industry delivers a substantial increase in contributions by the end of this year, and makes contributions in a timely fashion, I will seek the approval for a statutory levy, at a rate to be determined."

Suicidal

Psychology professor Ros Corney, of Greenwich University, has given her backing to a compulsory levy as she believes there is not enough support for women gamblers.

For the past year, she has been researching what she says is the growing problem of women addicts.

She believes the increase is being partly driven by a growth in bingo websites and internet betting.

I was fed up and this took me away from realism. I was just in a little world all on my own
Problem gambler Vicky Clarke

Prof Corney said she had interviewed one woman who had gambled 70,000 and others who had lost their homes.

"[Gambling] affects their mental health, it affects their self-esteem," she said.

"Many of the women have felt suicidal, they just don't know where to turn next. They can't stop and they know they are getting themselves deeper and deeper into trouble."

Vicky Clarke, from Sheffield, lost 25,000 in two months. For her, it was a way of blocking out all the other problems in her life.

She said: "I was fed up and this took me away from realism. I was just in a little world all on my own. I wanted to stop but it was as though it was somebody else inside my body that was making me continue with it."

Therapy service

The UK's only residential gambling addiction centre said it had witnessed a rise in the number of women seeking help.

The Gordon House Association said nearly half of the people who ask for help through its online therapy service are now women.

Five years ago, before it set up the online service, only 10% of people seeking help were women.

A study by the Gambling Commission last year found there had not been any significant increase in problem gamblers since its previous survey in 1999.

But there is concern that the true extent of the problem among women is hidden as internet gambling is often a solitary, secretive activity which people may not admit to.

Coral Gala Bingo, which runs a website, said it was one of the largest contributors to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust and it would support a compulsory levy if it proved necessary.



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