Some quite amazing statistics in various news outlets suggesting half of all adults now gamble as stated in a recent news story on the King’s College London website.

Sometimes when gambling is discussed you will see the phrase; ‘when the National Lottery is excluded’. It’s interesting to consider the motivations behind excluding the National Lottery in particular. You buy a ticket for £2 in the hope of winning a jackpot, on the face of it this sounds like gambling and should be included in just the same way as anything else in the study.

So why use these words or even suggest that a more relevant figure would be without the lottery? Perhaps people think that when gambling is communal, for example syndicates, gathering around the Grand National once a year with the kids and doing a sweepstake on the World Cup, it is much more socially acceptable. Certainly a comparison could be drawn with drinking, getting drunk on your own or out with friends, for example, is often treated very differently.

It’s not a problem in company, if someone else is doing it it’s not ‘your problem’, it’s not even a problem in fact. So if not all gambling is bad then it goes without saying that it can be done without falling into an addiction and, therefore, does addiction happens when individuals lose control? This sounds like a totally legitimate position until you consider that you do not know you have problem with an ‘activity’. Of course until you undertake the activity, you are subjected to a barrage of encouragement through advertising until you try it just to see if you like it. Free money on sign-ups, free spins to give it try and money back specials all give you a little nudge in the ‘right’ direction. Gambling, at its heart, has a perceived payoff that can be focused on by advertisers, ‘it could be you’. Cigarettes cannot say, one of these might be healthy. We know cigarettes are all stock and all bad. We might argue that a glass of wine is healthy, but that is relevant only if you stop at one. How many times have you seen a promotion that says ‘drink this wine, one glass is good for you’?

Gambling has a hook unlike other addictions that allows advertisers to promote a positive side to the very activity people are undertaking. To me this means the approach to talking gambling issues needs to be different and there remain some big challenges with societal acceptability of different forms of gambling. That’s without saying anything about the early age of some of the statistics in this article!

This Kings College London News Spotlight shows an interesting level of research on gamblers’ wellbeing during lockdown.