The British newspaper The Daily Mail, a publication not known for taking a positive view on gambling generally, has published a report in which it claims that Britain's 284 000 [potentially] problem gamblers are estimated to have run up debt of GBP 5 billion.
The newspaper compares this amount with the GBP 2.7 billion prime minister Gordon Brown borrowed to extricate the government from the recent 10p general tax fiasco.
The Daily Mail's calculations are based on a government figure of 284 000 individuals with the potential to become hooked on betting in Britain, and an average number estimated at GBP 17 500 which problem gambling watchdogs say is the individual level of debt.
"It means that those who struggle to control their gambling owe GBP 4.9 billion," the newspaper claims. "Yet not a single National Health Service trust has a dedicated gambling addiction treatment programme."
The figures on debt levels were uncovered after the opposition Tory Party analysed betting industry data.
The party's culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt said: "The Government has shown a complete lack of leadership and has shamefully and irresponsibly turned a blind eye to the level of debt racked up by gamblers. It is deeply concerning – especially at a time when people are struggling to cope with the economic downturn – that vulnerable people are drowning in huge gambling debts.
"The Government must take problem gambling addiction seriously."
The report reveals that Britain spends only GBP10 per person on support for problem gamblers – far less than Canada (GBP 40) and New Zealand (GBP 44). In October, the Daily Mail revealed that the number of problem gamblers seeking help had rocketed by 25 percent since the Labour Party government relaxed the country's gambling rules.
Nearly 38 000 people called a betting addiction hotline last year compared with just over 30 000 in the previous year, according to Gamcare. Average levels of debt had grown from GBP 13 800 to GBP 17 500, added the UK's best-known gambling addiction charity.
UK betting generated GBP 2 billion in taxes. The Culture Department said the number of problem gamblers had not increased since 1999 and added: "We have the power to take action if problem levels increase."
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