Hundreds of thousands more over-65s gambling online than before the pandemic

Press release
21 December 2021

Hundreds of thousands more over 65-year-olds are gambling online than were at the start of the pandemic, some of whom could be at risk of developing a gambling disorder, warns the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The warning comes after analysis of Gambling Commission data by the Royal College of Psychiatrists estimated that 624,377 more over-65s are gambling online at least once a month, up from 8.7% of over-65s in the year to September 2019 to 13.5% in 2021.

RCPsych has produced a new patient resource: see our patient information on gambling disorder.

While there has been an overall increase in the number of people gambling online at least once a month since 2019, the increase is greatest among the over-65s and next greatest in the 45 to 54-year-old age range with an increase of 341,445. However, the number of 16 to 34-year olds gambling online fell by around 307,000 over the same period.

The shift to online gambling is partly due to the closure of physical betting shops during the pandemic as well as limited opportunities to undertake other activities because of lockdowns. Online gambling brings potential risks due to its 24/7 availability, particularly at a time when people are at home more and may be experiencing financial uncertainty due to the pandemic.

The findings come as the Royal College of Psychiatrists publishes a new online information resource for people who might be concerned about their gambling or the gambling of a friend or family member.

Professor Henrietta Bowden Jones OBE, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“The pandemic has shaken our lives in so many ways and these data show that many more older people are gambling online than were before the start of the pandemic.

“Not everyone who gambles will develop a gambling disorder, but some will. Gambling disorder is an illness and if left untreated can lead to significant depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

“The new information published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists will help anyone who’s worried about their gambling or knows someone whose gambling is becoming a problem.”

Over the past few years, gambling disorder has been increasingly recognised as a health issue in the same way as drugs and alcohol are. Since 2019 the NHS has included gambling disorder in its Long-term Plan and a number of clinics are available across the country to deliver treatment to anyone who needs it, including family members.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ new information resource quotes research from the Gambling Commission which says that between 4-7% of gamblers are gambling in a risky way.

Gambling disorder is a repeated pattern of gambling behaviour where an individual feels they’ve lost control; continues to gamble despite negative consequences; and sees gambling as more important to them than any other interest.

Owen, 38, who battled gambling disorder for over 16 years and is now 4 years in recovery, said:

“I developed a serious addiction to gambling as a child and went on to endure homelessness, the loss of many jobs, years of isolation, depression and low self-worth.

“For years I felt trapped, locked in a relationship with gambling but thankfully I got the help I needed from the National Problem Gambling Clinic. It’s here where I learnt the skills and tools I need to live a life free from gambling.

“For anyone struggling or who thinks they need help then my advice is to read the College’s online resource and speak to a professional as soon as possible.”

The resource includes a questionnaire for people who feel they’ve lost control of their gambling and advises people scoring four or more speak to their GP or a gambling treatment provider.

The proportion of over 65-year-olds gambling in-person fell from 20.1% in the year to September 2019 to 16.2% in 2021, while the proportion of 45 to 54-year-olds fell from 23.3% to 17.5%.

Information for patients

See our new patient information on gambling disorder.

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