With millions still under lockdown across Europe, there are growing concerns that being housebound for hours on end could be helping fuel a new wave of gambling addiction.
In the UK, campaigners say bookmakers have gone on an advertising blitz on TV and social media to use lockdown measures as a way to lure in vulnerable customers.
The government has now launched an inquiry into the impact of gambling addiction, which affects around 350,000 people in the country.
“More people are turning to online gambling, some out of boredom, some because they have a problem with gambling and they feel they need to go back to it, they’ve been driven by advertising and the temptation is just too much,” said British MP Carolyn Harris, chair of the gambling-related harm parliamentary committee.
One person who knows that temptation all too well is Alex Macey, a former sufferer of gambling disorder. He now works as the chair of the Gamvisory advocacy group, helping warn others about the dangers of gaming addiction
“I put myself into the fog and haze of gambling when I was there. If these circumstances were put upon me now, it would cause a lot of anxiety and there’s no doubt I would gamble more,” he said.
Macey says people under lockdown have contacted him out of fear of becoming addicted.
“They’re spending a lot more time on social media right now for example, and they’re seeing these adverts pop up, they’re clicking on the adverts and all of a sudden their bank account is being emptied – so yeah it’s a really risky time for people out there right now,” he said.
The UK government has now launched a wide-reaching inquiry into problem gambling, which will look at everything from mental health problems issues to its impact on crime and suicide.
For campaigners, it also needs to assess how the industry used lockdown measures as a means to find new customers.
“I don’t honestly believe that we can even guesstimate how many people will become problem gamblers over the past few weeks and the next few weeks, because it is an activity that is easy to do, easy to get involved with, and very, very, very easy to spend and get hooked excessively,” said MP Carolyn Harris.