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Research from the UK has revealed high levels of gambling is associated with a 37% increase in mortality.

New Oxford University research published in Nature, and led by Dr Naomi Muggleton, has also revealed that the top 1% of gamblers spent 58% of their income on the addiction, and one in ten are spending 8% on the habit.

While the financial risks of gambling addiction have long been known, as are the risks of moderate gamblers quickly becoming high spenders, particularly via poker machines and online betting apps, the most striking finding is that mortality risk is more than a third higher for men and women of all ages once gambling becomes the dominant activity.

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A long way from Casino Royale

Dr Muggleton’s work shows that in stark contrast to the glamour with which the industry likes to promote itself, in fact financial distress, social ills and poorer health are far more prevalent even among low level gamblers.

‘It’s unclear whether gambling causes negative outcomes, or whether already vulnerable people are disproportionately targeted,’ said Dr Muggleton.

‘Either of these relationships is worrying and could have implications for public health policies.’

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Problem getting worse?

With gambling advertising greatly increasing in both the UK and Australia in recent years, and special COVID-19 exemptions being provided to pubs and clubs by governments captive to the gambling lobby, the health costs of gambling are also increasing in the community, particularly for those least able to bear it.

The financial costs are also significant. The new UK study used real banking transactions rather than self-reported data, and followed more than 100,000 individuals.

They discovered an average spend of £1345 per year on gambling. The average figure is much lower, which shows that some gamblers are spending extremely large sums.

Apart from the risk of death, by suicide or other causes, the team found ‘that higher gambling is associated with a higher risk of future unemployment and future physical disability’, with much lower spending on health and well-being from gamblers.

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Implications beyond UK

Dr Rachel Volberg, from the school of public health at the University of Massachusetts, said ‘This study represents a real leap in helping us understand gambling harms.

‘To date, studies of gambling harms have been limited by reliance on small samples and self-reports of behaviour. Analysis of banking transactions provides unique insights into the scope and sequencing of gambling harms at the individual and population levels with implications for gambling policy, regulation, and harm minimization.’

While gambling-related health impacts are bad in the UK and USA, the situation is even worse in Australia, where there is a far higher prevalence of poker machines and other easily accessible forms of gambling technology.

This week, for example, Dee Why RSL in Sydney (which became famous following the death of its high spending poker machine customer Gary Van Duinen) published figures showing over $30m in profit from pokies in the last 12 months, despite having its gambling rooms closed due to COVID for three months.

The club’s total contribution to community over the same period was less than $2m.

Research from the Alliance for Gambling Reform has shown that NSW residents lose $17 million to poker machines every day.

If this story has brought up issues for you, please call Lifeline on 131114 or visit them on the net. The Northern Rivers Gambling Counselling Service is here.