A shocking 55,000 children are among the UK’s third of a million problem gamblers a House of Lord report has warned.
Peers on the Gambling Industry Committee have called for “urgent” action to clamp down on the explosive rise of problematic gambling in the UK, which they claim leads to one suicide a day.
They have called for all new online games to be reviewed for their potential to cause harm and addiction and their appeal to children before they are approved.
The minimum age to participate in gambling online should be raised to 18, it added.
To help prevent suicide, GPs should be given guidance on asking patients with symptoms of anxiety and depression whether they have any gambling problems, and signposting them to help.
Doctors should also be required to inform a coroner if they suspect a death by self-harm was gambling-related.
The report also claims that tor each problem gambler there are six other people, some two million people, who suffer harm such as the breakup of families, crime, loss of employment, loss of homes and, ultimately, loss of life.
The gambling industry spends £1.5 billion a year on advertising, and 60% of its profits come from the 5% who are already problem gamblers or are at risk of becoming so.
The report warns that since smartphones and laws which liberalised gambling has created a “perfect storm of addictive 24/7
It blames successive governments and regulators for failing to keep up with the revolution in the UK gambling sector, which has seen gambling become unsupervised and available 24-7 online.
Committee Chair Lord Grade of Yarmouth said that while most people who gamble “enjoy it safely” it still leads “hundreds of people to take their own lives” every year.
He added that gambling related-harm “has made the lives of two million people miserable” and called for urgent action.
He said: “The behaviour of some gambling operators, where vulnerable people were targeted with inducements to continue gambling when the operators knew they could not afford to, shocked the Committee.
“Lax regulation of the gambling industry must be replaced by a more robust and focussed regime which prioritises the welfare of gamblers ahead of industry profits.”
Campaigners have called for the law underpinning our regulation of gambling to be totally rewritten for the digital age.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, from Clean Up Gambling, said: “This report shows how outdated the 2005 Gambling Act is in the digital age.
“It is yet more evidence of how far the government will need to go to clean up the current mess when it comes to reviewing our gambling laws, which were written before smartphones even existed and mention betting by post more than online gambling.
“The industry has since exploded and the regulator is no longer fit for purpose.”
Michael Dugher, Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council welcomed the report and said the industry welcomed a Government review of regulations around gambling.
Mr Dugher, a former Labour MP, said people should remember that “the vast majority of the nearly 30 million UK adults who enjoy a flutter every year by either buying a Lottery ticket or having a bet do so safely and enjoyably”
He added: “The report right raises concerns about children and gambling. It is vital to understand that the vast majority of that gambling is legal betting between friends, in arcades or on the National Lottery.
“It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to bet with any of our members and we have strict measures in place to prevent any child from accessing our members’ products, whether that is preventing them entering betting shops, ID and age checks at the entrance to casinos or new ID and age verification checks online, which have resulted in hundreds of thousands of accounts being closed.”