The UK government is mulling a review of the regulations on fixed odds betting terminals commonly found in pubs and betting shops, in order to reduce the risk of problem gambling developing.
Based on a report from the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, this would see the maximum stake gamblers can bet on the machines reduced from £300 a minute to between £2 and £50.
Given that the Gambling Commission, the industry regulator, found 43% of people who use the machines are either problem or at-risk gamblers, some such as opposition Labour MP Tom Watson, have described this as "a squandered opportunity". Critics believe the proposals don't go far enough to protect people from fixed odds betting terminals, sometimes described as "the crack cocaine of gambling" due to their addictive nature.
Harmful gambling can have crippling financial and social effects on the gambler, their friends and family. In the first national study of the social impact of harmful gambling in Ireland, we examined how it affected recovering gamblers, their families and friends. We also heard stories from counsellors and those who provide services to help gamblers. Talking to people from all walks of life, from different age groups and different economic backgrounds, we found that a common theme was the devastating social effects gambling had on people's lives.
In particular, we learned that gamblers were often exposed to gambling at an early age, for example by collecting betting proceeds for a family member, or watching adults place bets. This then led them to participate in gambling before the legal age of 18.
Gamblers reported gambling in secret, isolating themselves from family and friends to feed their addiction. As relationships deteriorated, the gambler's behaviour would only be discovered when they were no longer able to maintain a double life, such as failing to intercept unpaid bills that had been part of trying to maintain a facade of normality. The availability of technologies, such as smartphones, means that it's possible to conceal a secret gambling habit for years, before financial and emotional crises reach breaking point.