NHS expert tells Leeds councillors that scratchcard addiction is among the most common gambling problems
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Matt Gaskell, consultant pyschologist at the Northern Gambling Service, said scratchcards were one of the three most common gambling habits among those with a disorder. Slot machines and betting in-play on sports are also frequent types of addiction, councillors in Leeds were told on Friday. But while much of public debate around gambling problems in recent years has focused on the dangers of online betting, comparatively little attention has been paid to scratchcards, which are widely available in supermarkets.
The legal age to buy a National Lottery ticket or Scratchcard is 18. The Northern Gambling Service, which is jointly run by the NHS and the charity Gamcare, opened its first base at Merrion House in Leeds in 2019. It’s since opened two other branches, in Manchester and Sunderland. Speaking to a council scrutiny committee about the gambling addiction, Mr Gaskell said that 58 per cent of patients were between 20 and 39 years old. Around 70 per cent are male, he added.
He told the committee: “The most common types of gambling activities they’re engaging in are gambling machines, or slot machines to you and I; sports betting, particularly in-play betting which is a continuous form of gambling, and scratchcards. It’s these continuous forms of gambling which are known to be the number one predictor of gambling harms. The more traditional forms of gambling where you’re gambling on a future event carries less risk than those activities that an individual might engage with (continuously) and at higher frequency.”
One Labour councillor called for the local authority to engage with supermarkets to try to lower the risk of addiction from scratchcards. Councils have relatively few powers to regulate the gambling industry, compared to curbs that can be placed on alcohol.
Scratchcards themselves are regulated by The Gambling Commission. Coun Kayleigh Brooks, who represents the Little London and Woodhouse ward, said: “It seems to me incredibly cruel in the case of scratchcards that they are available to buy in a place where you go to get basic supplies for life.
“People are being put in that situation every time they need to pick up essentials. I think it’s really important that we do reach out to supermarkets and corner shops and other places that might sell them. I know we don’t have the power to ban it, but just to try and reduce that harm.”