The scale of the UK gambling epidemic was revealed today in a shocking study that linked problem betting to early death.
Oxford University research found that more than half a million Britons are spending £ 900 a month on their habit – and 200,000 are paying out more than £ 1,800.
The study also showed the devastating health effects of those who bet more than they can afford and run into financial difficulties.
A player who spent 30 percent of their disposable income on gambling died a third more likely than a non-player to die within five years.
Even someone who gambled one-tenth of their income was 12 percent more likely to die over the same period.
Naomi Muggleton, the lead researcher at Oxford, said, “The fact that there is a link between gambling and mortality, especially at higher levels, is shocking. This suggests that public health action is needed. "
A study from Oxford University has shown the extent of the UK's gambling problem in more detail than ever, as the problem of gambling is linked for the first time to early death
Chris Bruney, a high-flying engineer (center) with girlfriend Fran Green (right) and parents Judith and Lloyd Bruney, committed suicide at the age of 25 after developing a gambling addiction
The results will fuel calls for stricter regulation of the betting industry, something the Daily Mail has long fought for with its Stop The Gambling Predators campaign.
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said, “This is a devastating indictment against the conduct of gambling companies.
& # 39; It shows very clearly how they have encouraged problem gamers to spend more.
"Chris would be alive if there had been proper warnings about addictive products."
Chris Bruney, a high-flying engineer, committed suicide at the age of 25 after developing a gambling addiction.
He wagered £ 119,000 in five days, but instead of closing his account, Playtech wagered him with cash bonuses and free bets.
In the hours before his death, in April 2017, he received £ 400 cash rewards.
After seeing the Oxford University report, his mother Judith urged ministers to take action to prevent further gambling-related suicides.
Ms. Bruney, from Sheffield said, "This important study confirms what we have always known – that young people are more drawn to gambling than they can afford to die younger."
She added, “We still miss Chris every day. He would be alive today if there had been adequate warnings about toxic products that cause addiction and death. "
The Gambling Commission found that in Chris' case there were "serious systemic deficiencies" in the management of social responsibility and anti-money laundering by the Playtech subsidiary.
There is at least one gambling-related suicide every day in the UK.
Ms. Bruney advocates Chris's law, a statutory duty of care for bookmakers that is followed by an independent ombudsman to "prevent the exploitation that led to my son's death".
“The end result is they die younger, leaving a trail of debt, broken family relationships, and illness.
"Curbing abusive behavior by online gambling companies is long gone."
Stewart Kenny, the former head of Paddy Power, who cut ties with the company in 2016 because he believed it couldn't help gambling addicts, said: “The scale of this problem has reached alarming proportions.
“Self-regulation just doesn't work. Ministers need to get it under control and take action. & # 39;
The study, published yesterday in the journal Nature Human Behavior, explains in greater detail than ever how much Britons gamble and how it affects their finances.
The researchers analyzed the spending habits of 6.5 million anonymized Lloyds Bank customers in 2018, making it the most comprehensive study of its kind ever conducted in the UK.
A little more than two in five Britons spend money on games of chance, according to the study, and deposit money into a betting account on average once a week.
The average spending on gambling was £ 1,345, or £ 112 per month, although that figure has been heavily skewed by large funders. Half of all players spend £ 10.41 a month.
The top 1 percent of players, or 218,000 people, were spending at least £ 1,838 a month.
That was 58 percent of their disposable income – including spending on housing, food, and utility bills – suggesting that many could not afford their losses.
There were 508,000 gamblers who were gambling more than £ 933 a month, 40 percent of their disposable income, and 2.2 million people who gambled at least £ 153 a month.
The researchers defined expenses as single bets and deposits into a betting account that was paid for with a debit card, credit card, or direct debit.
The numbers are a "conservative estimate," the researchers said, as the data did not include store-bought lottery tickets and money bets.
Previous surveys used self-reported responses, which means they are less reliable as respondents don't want to admit or can't remember how much they are spending.
The Gambling Commission estimates the number of problem gamblers at around 400,000, including 55,000 children, and another two million people are "at risk".
The study also found that gamblers who had spent a greater proportion of their spending on gambling were more likely to have difficulty paying for housing and bills.
The study found that 1% of gamers, which equates to 218,000 people, were spending at least £ 1,838 a month
In the transactions analyzed, there was a sharp acceleration in signs of financial distress – lack of a mortgage, loan, or credit card payment – as players spent more than 4 percent of their spending on betting.
That's only £ 80 for someone spending £ 2,000 a month or take away pay for someone on a £ 30,000 salary.
These players were twice as likely to miss loan and mortgage repayments compared to non-gamers.
Labor MP Carolyn Harris, chair of the all-party group on game-related harm
The report's authors cautioned that they could not find a direct cause between increased gaming spending and increased levels of financial hardship and mortality because they did not examine other lifestyle factors.
Her work, funded by Lloyds and the Economic and Social Research Council, takes place amid the biggest turnaround in gambling laws in 15 years.
Under the proposed changes, bookmakers would be forced to run affordability checks on customers.
The Gambling Commission is also looking at a "soft cap" for spending between £ 100 and £ 450 per month.
The Oxford study showed that a cap of £ 275 would affect around one tenth of gamers, or 2.1 million people.
Lord Grade, Chairman of the Lords Gambling Committee, said, "This research shows that affordability rules are the most important."
Labor MP Carolyn Harris, chair of the all-party group on damage-related gambling, said "Affordability checks and wagering limits are important measures that are badly needed."
Liberal Democratic Peer Lord Foster, chairman of the Peers for Gambling Reform Group, added, “Many, many people gamble more than they can afford and some people will die even younger as a result. That is deeply shocking.
"The government should take immediate and determined action to properly regulate this industry."
The Betting and Gambling Council said, “One problem is one too many which is why the regulated industry recently put in place a number of protections and measures such as: B. the ability for customers to completely self-exclude themselves and close over a million online accounts in the US last year. & # 39;
I was the boss of a gambling giant. I take the blame But I know how to fix this
From Stewart Kenny, Managing Director of Paddy Power from 1988 to 2001
When online gambling started in the UK, I was a bookmaker for almost three decades. Despite my many years of experience, I was only able to recognize the extent of the emerging challenge too late.
I resigned from the board of directors of the company I co-founded in 2016 because I was deeply concerned that the bookmakers were not taking effective action to curb gambling addiction – but I have not yet written about it publicly.
Even in the mental health sector I work in now, gambling has been viewed by many as just an addicting endeavor.
But online gambling, where a 24-hour casino and bookmaker fits in every pocket and house in the country, has shifted betting from an addiction in disguise to an addiction that is now on the front page.
Stewart Kenny, former head of Paddy Power, who cut ties with the company in 2016 because he believed it couldn't help gambling addicts, said the scale of the problem was alarming
Its spread has harmed thousands of families across the UK, but despite the compelling evidence of its destructive power, the industry remains in denial.
The failure to regulate this growing problem is fully visible today after research reveals the staggering sums of money that Britain's heaviest players have lost.
Years of experience both inside and outside the boardroom has led me to believe that you will never get the bookies to self-regulate. Hence, the government must step in and protect the young and vulnerable from the risk of developing serious gambling addiction it did with cigarettes.
As my former board member Fintan Drury (Paddy Power Chairman 2002-2008) said, there is a "troubling partnership" between the bookmakers and the UK government that "fosters the addiction of hundreds of thousands of citizens".
And as two industry veterans, we have to take our responsibility not to recognize the potential for social damage.
But we also have to ask: if many at-risk players are injured, are some of the billion pounds that Rishi Sunak's treasury makes legitimate? I suggest three steps that can be taken now.
First, the government should legislate to introduce mandatory deposit limits – for all customers.
All online bookmakers have voluntary deposit limits at which a customer can deposit a maximum amount into their betting account every day, every week or every month.
Unfortunately, it is precisely the people who need to apply these limits most urgently.
Mr Kenny said deposit limits should be mandatory for "at risk" customers to avoid self-destruct at a point where rational behavior has been compromised (file photo)
Optional borders really are nothing more than an industrial fig leaf. Deposit limits must be binding so that vulnerable customers can avoid self-destruct at a point where rational behavior has been compromised.
Another initiative that would make a fundamental difference is a £ 2 wagering limit for online slots – similar to the limit for fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
This fundamental change has greatly alleviated the worst in-store gambling excesses, but was only implemented after a grueling campaign by this newspaper and others, through bipartisan parliamentary cooperation and the resignation of a government minister, Tracey Crouch MP, in principle.
While a few individual industry experts advocated change, the entire sector invested all resources to stop and then delay adoption.
This is an important context for where we are now on elements of online gambling and how the government, regardless of the ramifications for the treasury, must force the hand of the industry.
Finally, we must also take steps to stop cross-selling addicting casino products to under 25s who go online to wager on their favorite sport.
Again, the industry does not seem prepared to act as ministers must do. The 2005 Gaming Act review, introduced in December, offers ample opportunity for all three proposals.
None of these suggestions would lessen the joy of those who love a bet, but they would protect the young and vulnerable.
The Oxford study shows that three-quarters of gamblers spend less than £ 36.50 a month. For the majority of their customers, wagering is an enjoyable pastime, but for hundreds of thousands, it leads to despair.
The industry I belonged to for decades has been hoping for far too long for a "magic wand" solution that will curb gambling addiction without hurting profits.
But the bosses who have followed in my footsteps have to swallow a bitter pill – they have to sacrifice some of their profits, maybe up to 15 percent, to make some products less addictive. And it is the government that needs to move this forward.
As an industry veteran, I take my responsibility not to see how the development of online gambling would harm vulnerable people and parts of society.
I admit that I take some of the blame for the damage caused by the addiction of some online gambling products. I wish I had been a lot more proactive. The fact that I have not done more leaves me deeply sorry.
Stewart Kenny co-founded Paddy Power in 1988. He stepped down from its board in 2016 for not addressing the problem of gambling and now works as a psychotherapist.
Paddy Power is now part of Flutter Entertainment plc, the world's largest gaming company.