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No quick fix for nation's gambling addiction

We've all said it.

When I win the lottery ... Of course, most of us know that winning the lottery is about as likely as being hit by lightning. But that doesn't stop us fantasising about it, especially at this time of year when budgets have been squeezed tight by Christmas. The government makes a lot of amount of money from this "tax on the stupid" as it has been called. Britain's success at the Olympic Games was largely built on lottery cash.

The downside is that, since the National Lottery was first established in 1994, gambling has become part of the fabric of everyday life. And more and more of us are becoming addicted to it. The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Lorna Hood, has warned in her New Year message that this is because gambling is now "cool and normalised" - the stigma has gone. Along with pay-day loans, betting is making a significant contribution to the debt crisis faced by thousands of Scottish families.

According to the Scottish Health Survey published earlier this year, 70% of Scots have gambled in the past year. That's three million people, and the UK Gambling Commission estimate that 31,000 of them are addicted - not far short of the number of hard drug addicts in Scotland.

The problem has become significantly worse following the deregulation of gambling in 2005, which allowed online gaming companies to advertise on the UK media. Online gambling is now worth nearly £2 billion a year in the UK. The UK gambling industry as a whole enjoyed a jackpot yield of £6.3bn last year, up 7%.

Gambling is no respecter of age or social class. Online gambling is particularly attractive to middle-class women since it can be carried out discretely in the home and doesn't involve a trip to the bookmaker or casino.

But the crack cocaine of gambling are the fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) that have sprung up in bookmakers across Scotland, especially in areas of social deprivation. FOTBs allow people to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds, and Scottish bookies made £122 million profit from them last year alone. Gambling addiction charities are calling for the stakes to be limited to £2 in these machines, and we believe that this should be introduced as a matter of urgency. Labour has now promised to review high stakes betting machines if it wins the next election.

But it is time also to review the social cost as a whole. Gambling is reserved to Westminster and Holyrood has only limited powers to intervene. Nevertheless, we hope that in 2014 the Scottish Government will look closely at the licensing of betting establishments to see if something can be done to curb the growth of predatory gambling.

At the very least it should continue to lobby the UK government to stem the growth of fixed odds betting - a sure sign of a gambling industry that is out of control.

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Local government

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