Social campaigners and church leaders have expressed fears that 15 new casinos, including one in Norfolk
, will bring an inevitable rise in the number of people with gambling problems.
Putting a figure on just how many people have a problem now is difficult. The most recent nationwide survey, conducted in 2000, suggested that almost 33 million people - 72pc of the adult population - had taken part in some sort of gambling activity within the previous year, including the National Lottery. Excluding the lottery, the figure was 46pc.
Of those, between 275,000 and 370,000 people were said to be problem gamblers, but this is widely thought to be a conservative estimate. A new survey is due to be published this year.
Last week, the British Medical Association (BMA)
warned of a likely increase in the number of people with a gambling problem, ahead of the casinos announcement.Prof Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University
, the report's main author, said the real number of problem gamblers was likely to be far higher than estimates because of the impact of internet and mobile phone gambling and interactive TV.Major Ray Begley
, corps officer at the Salvation Army's Norwich Citadel
, said his organisation was concerned about plans for the new casinos in Yarmouth and elsewhere. "Our main concern is that an increase in gambling opportunities will bring an increase in gambling problems," he said. "The Salvation Army is asking government to make sure it monitors and evaluates the whole process and the social changes in Great Yarmouth over a three-year period and invests in people who develop gambling problems."
Major Begley hoped some of the profits from the casinos would be ploughed back into helping problem gamblers. He said: "The reality is, we do see the other side of gambling, drugs and alcohol. We see the people on the streets coming to us for food parcels whose lives have been turned upside- down.
"It's a major concern. We're not being holy Joes or trying to spoil things, but we're the people that will have to pick up the pieces. If a woman spends all her money on bingo, who does she come to for a food parcel? Bingo is small stuff to what we're preparing for now."Nicola Crewe-Read, of GamCare
, an organisation that addresses gambling problems, said: "We believe the social responsibility obligations of both councils and operators are such that we would not forecast a significant increase in problem gamblers.
"Gambling is part of our culture and part of many countries' cultures. The French go to the casino like we go down to the pub for a pint. The Chinese are some of the biggest gamblers in the world and they aren't even allowed to.
"It's part of our cultural heritage. It's not just the Brits who gamble - it seems to be part of our national make-up."