The importance that the UK government places on containing the threat of problem gambling was again illustrated this week when Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe visited GamCare's London HQ to view the range of telephone, online and face to face services the charity offers nationally, free, to problem gamblers.
With responsibility for gambling, the Minister is leading the current consultation on the proposed RIGT levy on gambling operators to fund treatment and was keen to see how the funds are spent.
"GamCare is leading the way in providing support for those with a gambling problem, helping thousands of people since it was founded in 1997," Sutcliffe said. "It is great to see the organisation finding new ways to reach out and I want to hear more about the new OnLine Counselling initiative, offering counselling over the internet."
Anthony Jennens, Chairman of GamCare, said "We are delighted to welcome the Minister. This is a valuable opportunity to witness at first hand the range of services we offer, the commitment, professionalism and expertise of our staff, and to gain a better understanding of the enormous importance of what we do for anyone affected by problem gambling."
GamCare has seen demand for the service and has already had over 30 OnLine clients. Some clients say they are too ashamed to consider face to face counselling, others appreciate the greater element of control as they can censor themselves and think carefully about finding the right words.
Gamcare reports that the OnLine environment has attracted a higher percentage of women than face to face (over 50 percent of clients), and the age range of female clients is wider than that of male clients, with more women clients over 50 and more males under 30. However, the level of commitment to attending sessions is comparable to GamCare's traditional face to face counselling and gambling impacts on their relationships, health, finances and mental health every bit as severe.
Callers who express an interest when they contact NetLine or HelpLine advisers are referred for an initial discussion with a qualified counsellor before being assigned their regular counsellor and session times. GamCare's counselling is integrative and tailored to the individual's needs.
Reasons for addiction can be complex: gambling sometimes can offer a means of escape from seemingly intolerable thoughts and feelings. Counsellors employ a range of therapeutic approaches to facilitate discovery of the underlying reasons, the aim being to stop or effectively manage problem gambling behaviour.
GamCare is funded indirectly through voluntary contributions from the gambling industry, through the Responsibility in Gambling Trust. Following the failure of RIGT to raise sufficient funds, Government has just launched a consultation into whether funds should be raised by a levy.
According to the British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007, it is estimated that 0.6 percent of the UK population (around 300 000 people) are potential or actual problem gamblers. Considering that each may have a partner, parents and dependents, those impacted by problem gambling may number over one million. The Survey, commissioned by the Gambling Commission and prepared and published by the National Centre for Social Research, provides detailed statistics.
The usually anti-gambling newspaper The Daily Mail recently carried a claim that as much as one third of gambling websites could be allowing under-18s to bet, quoting a UK Gambling Commission study that indicated that 33 percent of online casinos and bookmakers had ‘deficiencies' that might enable youngsters to gamble on the Internet.
Under the Gambling Act, which came into force in 2007, any company that holds a licence for online gaming in the UK must carry out stringent checks to prevent children playing highly-addictive games, the newspaper reminds readers, quit aart from the moral and professional obligation to prevent underage gamblers.
In the UK, some 164 firms are permitted to operate about 250 websites, the newspaper reports.
The Gambling Commission's figures emerged in Parliamentary answers, and were compiled after tests using debit cards belonging to under-18s were carried out to uncover any system deficiencies.
Liberal Democrat culture spokesman and traditionally anti-gambling politician Don Foster said: "There is a massive danger that this will fuel a huge increase in under-age gambling addiction."
Dr Emanuel Moran, an adviser on gambling to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, was quick to again weigh in on a gambling issue, telling The Daily Mail: "It is obvious that the safeguards put in place by the Government, and the statements made about responsible gambling in relation to the Internet, are totally bogus. We are in danger of allowing a generation of children to become addicted to gambling."
Taking an opposing view, Culture Minister Gerry Sutcliffe said: "The majority of the tests showed that policies and procedures to prevent children from gambling on remote sites are effectively in place."
And the Gambling Commission said the websites tested may only have failed one of a series of checks, so other safeguards may have caught under-18s anyway.