lockdown pressure sparks gambling concerns

Linda J. Dodson

With hours to spend at home, many people have been looking for new ways to spend their time during lockdown, sparking warnings about the growth in problem gambling.

Gambling has fallen since the start of the lockdown, with horse racing meetings and football matches cancelled, according to The Gambling Commission, the industry regulator. However, it reported an increase in the use of online slots, poker, casino gaming and virtual sports.

Almost two thirds of regular gamblers have increased the time or money they are spending on online betting, the watchdog said. The number of sessions that last for more than one hour has also increased.

Experts have warned that regular gamblers could be increasing their losses during lockdown and new people could be signing up for the first time.

One Telegraph Money reader, who asked to remain anonymous, said he had lost £3,000 in a matter of days after signing up to a mFortune, an online casino website. 

“I’d never gambled before, apart from the lottery from time to time,” he said. “But I’ve been in isolation for 14 days and at home quite a bit. I got hooked within a very short period of time.

“I had big wins and then big losses, and then even bigger losses. Over five or six days I’d sunk £3,000 into this website.”

He made more than 80 deposits on the website of increasing sums and said mFortune should have intervened.

“I gambled my overdraft and everything else in my bank account, which was supposed to be for my mortgage and car payments,” he said.

“I couldn’t tell my partner because it would have been the end of the world. I’ve had to take out a loan so I can pay the bills and so we don’t fall into financial difficulty.”

A spokesman for mFortune declined to comment on the case but said it followed a duty of care to all customers as part of its operating licence.

Jo Stevens MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “These reports are extremely concerning. Companies are targeting vulnerable gamblers with adverts online and sport is saturated with betting sponsorships.  

“Problem gambling can cost lives – the industry needs to do much more to protect those susceptible to problem gambling.”

Anna Hemmings of GamCare, a gambling charity, said: “Financial distress, isolation and boredom are increasing with Covid-19 and Government [lockdown] measures. Combined with the availability of online gambling, there is a concerning context for people at risk.”

Ms Hemmings urged anyone struggling with problem gambling to call the free National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133. An online chat service is also available for gamblers unable or unwilling to talk on the phone.

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