Gambling addiction fears as new research shows 600,000 OAPs started betting online during Covid pandemic
Britain’s pensioners risk becoming a generation of gambling addicts after more than half a million turned to online betting during the pandemic.
Research shows 625,000 over-65s took up gambling on the net during lockdown – a greater jump than in any other age group.
Some 13.5 per cent of Britons who bet online are now over 65 – compared to 8.7 per cent in September 2019, a Royal College of Psychiatrists report reveals.
This surge in ‘silver surfers’ taking up the potentially damaging habit coincided with lockdown, when high street betting shops were closed and isolated elderly residents spent more time online.
Research shows 625,000 over-65s took up gambling on the net during lockdown – a greater jump than in any other age group (stock image)
The report, based on data from the Gambling Commission, found betting on the net has risen among all age groups in the two years since the pandemic began.
It said: ‘The shift to online gambling is partly due to the closure of physical betting shops during the pandemic as well as limited opportunities to undertake other activities because of lockdowns.
‘Online gambling brings potential risks due to its 24/7 availability, particularly when people are at home more and may be experiencing financial uncertainty.’
Some 12.1millon adults in England gambled online in 2020 – up 12 per cent from before the pandemic, latest data shows.
Analysis by the RCP found that the sharpest rise has been in the over-65s, followed by middle-aged adults, as many gamble online instead of in-person.
Over the past two years some 341,445 people in the 45- to 54-year-old age range have taken up online betting, while the proportion placing bets in-person fell from 23 to 17.5 per cent.
Meanwhile, the number of 16- to 34-year-olds who gambled online fell by around 307,000 over the same period.
Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones of the RCP said: ‘The pandemic has shaken our lives in so many ways and these data show that many more older people are gambling online than were before the start of the pandemic.
‘Not everyone who gambles will develop a gambling disorder, but some will. Gambling disorder is an illness and, if left untreated, can lead to significant depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.’
Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones of the RCP said: ‘The pandemic has shaken our lives in so many ways and these data show that many more older people are gambling online than were before the start of the pandemic
Burcu Borysik, Head of Policy at Royal Society for Public Health said: ‘These latest figures from the Royal College of Psychiatrists represent a deeply concerning increase in online gambling activity.
‘Online gambling is a hidden public health crisis, and it is especially worrying to see this increase is greatest in the over-65 age group, who are particularly likely to be socially isolated, and experience greater levels of gambling harm.
‘Sadly this news comes as no surprise. We already know that the pandemic has led to increased at-home consumption of other potentially harmful products such as alcohol, a known risk-factor for harmful gambling activity.
‘Mental health has also been severely impacted, which likewise dramatically increases the likelihood of harmful gambling activity.
‘To ensure that this worrying increase does not continue beyond the pandemic, the government must ensure legislation on online gambling is fit for purpose. In particular, policies that address ease of access to online gambling, including: affordability checks, stake limits on online gambling products, and greater data sharing to identify at-risk gamblers should be implemented. The upcoming Gambling Act Review represents a vital opportunity to address this.’
Since 2019 the NHS has included gambling disorder in its long-term plan and a number of clinics are available across the country to deliver treatment to anyone who needs it, including family members.