This page explains what gambling is, how common it is in the UK and what problem gambling is.

What is gambling?

Traditionally, gambling is an activity where someone risks money or belongings. There is an element of randomness or chance involved and the purpose is to win.

The traditional methods that usually come to mind are:

  • Gaming: including card games, fruit machines, video-draw poker machines, slot machines, two-up and casino games such as baccarat and roulette.
  • Betting: including horse and greyhound races, football accumulators, other sporting events and elections.
  • Lotteries: including lotteries, instant scratch cards, raffles and bingo.
  • Speculation: gambling on business, insurance or stock markets.

Gambling in the UK 

Over half the population in the UK takes part in some form of gambling activity. For some people, this can be an enjoyable activity. For others, gambling can harm their physical and mental health, relationships, performance at work or study, get them into trouble with the law and leave them in serious debt and possible homelessness.

Public Health England estimates that more than 400 suicides each year may be associated with problem gambling.  Family, friends and work colleagues can be affected by problem gambling, too.

Based on 2018 data and depending on which part of the country you live in, Public Health England estimates that about 1 in 100 people in the UK can be considered as a problem gambler, and that a further 4 in 100 people are classified as at-risk gamblers, meaning they may experience some level of negative consequences due to their gambling.

Technology makes it easier to gamble 

Access to gambling sites has never been easier. There are now hundreds of gambling companies that provide casino-style games and betting apps which can be downloaded onto devices such as smartphones, tablets or laptops. They provide the convenience of making bets or gambling from wherever the person is, even if they are on the move, 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Identifying problem gambling 

‘Problem gambling’ or ‘problematic gambling’ is defined as gambling that is disruptive or damaging to an individual or their family, or interferes with an individual’s daily life.

While problem gambling itself doesn’t have physical symptoms, the negative effects can appear in many areas of life. These include:

  • Reduced quality of life – having less money or free time
  • Problems with your social life – avoiding seeing friends or going out
  • Physical illnesses caused by spending more time gambling and less time being active, as well as potentially drinking more alcohol
  • Financial problems – running up debts, and not having enough money for essentials
  • Relationship problems and conflict at home – this can include arguments with family and friends, or conflict with your partner about financial difficulties
  • Criminal activity – problem gambling doesn’t make you a criminal, but some people find themselves committing crimes to fund their gambling habit
  • Unemployment or difficulties at work – if you gamble at work, or miss work due to gambling, it can lead to issues at work and potentially unemployment.

How problem gambling happens 

Some people seem to be more likely to develop a gambling problem than others. 

Men tend to be more vulnerable to developing a gambling problem than women, which is probably because women usually gamble less than men. There are other ‘risk factors’ too; see the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ website for details.

While a gambling problem can start at any age, people who start as teenagers or young adults may grow into problem gamblers. Children as young as seven can struggle to control how much time they spend playing video and mobile games, many of which ask for micro-transactions and payments. Older people who feel isolated or bored can also be attracted to gambling.

People who work in casinos, betting shops or arcades can be more likely to develop a gambling habit.

Is your gambling problematic? 

Do you suspect that gambling is affecting your life? Wondering what signs you should be looking out for?

Take our self-assessment questionnaire and find out what your score means for you.

If you are worried about your gambling and want to cut down or stop your gambling altogether, then check out the other help and support pages:

Some of the information and advice in this section is based on information and advice developed by West Midlands Gambling Harms Clinic.