Research from addiction rehabilitation specialists Rehabs UK has found hundreds of thousands of UK adults are looking to gamble on reality TV shows monthly. Experts warn that without better regulation on advertising, bookies’ efforts to attract a more diverse range of gamblers could turn the cost of living crisis into an addiction crisis of even more epic proportions.
- Over the last 12 months, the UK has seen an average of 110,000 monthly searches related to placing bets on I’m a Celebrity, Strictly, Bake Off, Eurovision and Love Island – with larger spikes around their finals.
- The cost of living crisis has already been linked with a rise in problem drug and alcohol use, and addiction experts say the recent rise in gambling addiction may only worsen if more isn’t done to reduce ‘irresponsible advertising’ and new betting options.
- A recent YouGov survey noted that more than one in 20 UK adults plan to gamble more this year than in 2022 because of the cost of living, with 42% of ‘problem’ gamblers saying the same.
- In 2022, 75% of National Gambling Treatment Service patients primarily gambled online, while 84% of GamCare helpline callers in the same period mentioned online gambling, vs 30% struggling with an offline habit.
Rehabs UK founder and director Lester Morse says: “Gambling digitally rather than in-person at bookmakers allows people to throw their money at bets while unsupervised and even intoxicated. The result is that people hoping to improve their financial situation make it a lot worse and can easily spiral into compulsive and addictive gambling behaviours.
Reviewing the UK’s online searches, the Rehabs UK team found that “I’m a Celebrity” was the show with the greatest amount of betting interest, followed by “Eurovision”, with “Strictly Come Dancing” the third most likely to inspire us to part with our cash in the hopes of winning more.
Many of us might not think twice about placing a bet “for fun” when we know how our favourite TV shows will turn out. However, some experts argue that the frequency and prominence of TV advertising for gambling brands are causing the public to underestimate the risks or have a ‘flutter’ on our favourite shows.
“Academic studies have shown that young children think adverts make gambling look “fun” and ‘easy’, and unfortunately the same could be said of many adults.” Morse continues. “At the end of the day, the more the bookies work to target broader audiences with their ads and their odds, the more chances there are that someone will take a step into a habit they regret. Better advertising regulations are needed, as have been brought in for cigarettes, alcohol and other addictive habits.”
Earlier this year, the government announced proposals for gambling reforms for the digital age, with secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Lucy Frazer, noting: “We recognise that people should be free to spend their money as they choose, but when gambling poses the risk of becoming a clinical addiction the government needs to ensure there are proper protections. That is why change is now needed.”
So far this year, Rehabs UK has experienced more people visiting its site to find information about gambling addiction treatment than those seeking support related to methamphetamine, suggesting the need for support still outstrips supply despite the NHS announcing new gambling clinics in 2022 as a measure to meet record demand.
“There’s plenty of talk about how certain drugs are a gateway to using others,” Morse goes on to say, “but very little is being said about the ever-growing range of things that people can now gamble on and how reality TV odds, political odds and other relatively recent options are in many ways a gateway drug to problem gambling for many people already facing a cocktail of other issues.”