GROWING numbers of Scots are gambling their way into debt, with a new wave of online betting and bingo partly fuelling the rise.
Experts have warned young people are particularly at risk of developing gambling habits, with the tough economic climate leading to more reckless betting activity.
Debt specialists, academics and recovering gambling addicts will gather in Glasgow this week for a conference to examine the true cost of a more liberal betting industry, the prevalence of online gambling and the need for greater awareness of toxic gambling behaviour, which can go undetected for long periods.
Representatives of the betting industry have stressed 99% of people who gamble enjoy betting as a form of entertainment and do so without harm.
But Yvonne MacDermid, chief executive of Money Advice Scotland, said : "What we are seeing is more and more people seeking help for their gambling debt and the gambling-related harm that follows. Some people can gamble and it doesn't become uncontrollable but gambling problems can be a tricky thing to detect.
"The economy is such that people are taking chances that they wouldn't have taken before. People are desperate."
Ms MacDermid suggested heavily promoted online bingo sites created a false sense of security for some.
She said: "Online bingo is a very social thing. People may be sitting at home feeling quite isolated and the bingo sites create a sense of a social network. For some people these sites may just be an interest but for some it gets out of control very quickly."
Advances in technology, including smartphone apps for betting sites have eased access to betting, Ms MacDermid added.
She said: "Bear in mind people could be sitting in a bookmaker's waiting on their horse running.
"There may be further betting machines in the bookmaker's and they could well have betting apps on their phone.
"They could be watching the progress of one bet and be on their phone at the same time trying to get a pay-day loan to cover the cost of it. People can become extremely vulnerable if they borrow money to bet."
Scotland has the fourth highest rate of gambling of UK regions, with 75% of people saying they have gambled over the previous year and 49% gambling at least once a week.
The 2005 Gambling Act relaxed some regulations on gambling, including restrictions on betting shops, casinos and online gambling operators advertising on TV and radio. Treatment and prevention is largely paid for by the betting industry.
Marc Etches, chief executive of the Responsible Gambling Trust, said £15 million was being put forward by the sector over the next three years.
He said he would not recognise a growth in problem gambling, with global figures on those seeking help remaining "very small and very stable".
But Andy Todd, counselling services manager of RCA Trust, which offers treatment for gamblers, said more young people were looking for help with gambling issues, with increased accessibility to gambling at the root of the rise
He said: "Around 90% of people we see have unmanageable gambling debt. It gets to the point that you are not servicing the debt, you just have more credit to service the bad behaviour."