A CBJ News Investigation: Assessing the current state of gambling in the UK 

What is ‘Gambling’?

According to BigDeal, an organisation that offers advice, support, and information for people with gambling problems, gambling is described as:

When people risk money or anything of value to predict the outcome of a game involving chance, such as on scratch cards or fruit machines, or by betting with friends. If you predict the outcome correctly, you win money. If you’re wrong, you lose the money you gambled.

Watch: Six facts you didn’t know about gambling (Credit/Saffron Dhillon)

I know what gambling is… Now hit me with some numbers!

The data reveals a deep-rooted gambling culture in the UK. As an industry, the gross yield (a fancy way for saying money generated) from gambling has nearly doubled in the past decade, peaking at nearly £15 billion in 2019. Owners of betting companies have received salaries in the hundreds of millions and the number of people who claim to be in debt as a result of their gambling habits has peaked at 71%

The UK government are currently in the midst of a major review of The 2005 Gambling Act and it remains to be seen what reforms, if any, they choose to make based on their findings.


Surely gambling is just a man’s game?

You’d be surprised… The number of women gambling has increased at double the rate of men over the past five years according to data collected by Gamcare. This disproportionality has given rise to efforts to destigmatise gambling as a problem exclusive to men and not women. Stacey Goodwin, a recovering gambling addict, has set up a social media account (going by the alias of The Girl Gambler) to help women with gambling problems and says:

“All kinds of people from all walks of life can fall into this addiction – it does not discriminate.”

Audio: Stacey Goodwin on the difficulties for a woman attending gambling help groups

Covid-19 impacted everything – did the pandemic affect gambling habits?

It did. All betting shops had to shop as a result of lockdown restrictions. Gamblers instead sought solace by using online platforms to gamble and profits from online games rose to record highs in 2020. This figure of £613m earned by gambling companies in December 2020 is unprecedented and Stacey believes that online gambling can be far more detrimental than in-person gambling:

“The anonymity of it [online gambling] means no-one looking at you, nobody judging you, and no-one saying ‘Oh my god, look at her.’ I found huge relief when I found online gambling when no-one would look at me and no-one would know.”

Websites such as Gamban and Gamstop have seen increased uses since lockdown restrictions came into place, and there has also been a spike in the number of people playing the National Lottery. Perhaps the general malaise of income in the country as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has led people to dream big and seek relief through the country’s most popular bet…

I see a new bookie opening every other week – is this where most people do their gambling?

I don’t know where you live but the data suggests otherwise… the number of bookmakers is actually decreasing in the UK. Concurrently, the number of people using online gambling websites and apps is increasing. Lockdown restrictions in the past year may have incorrectly given this perception, but the trend over the last decade has shown more and more bookmakers shutting up shops and more and more betting companies marketing themselves aggressively online.


  • Legal age for gambling in the UK is 18, for games, such as The National Lottery, it is 16
  • The UK’s most popular game is the National Lottery, which started in 1994
  • Gambling was legalised in the UK in 1845 after the inception of The Gaming Act
  • There are 156 casinos in the UK as of 2020
  • As of 2019, there are 98,174 employees in the gambling industry

Source: Gambling Commission

Do young people gamble? Heaven knows what they get up to nowadays…

Worryingly, yes, they do.

As of March 2020, 3.8% of the UK population were deemed problem gamblers. Of that figure, 60.5% of those were aged between 18-30. The worryingly high proportion of problem gamblers being under the age of 30 suggests an unhealthy perception of gambling by younger generations.

Perhaps video games containing loot boxes may be the reason for this – giving teenagers exposure to the concept of gambling in a seemingly harmless way could lead to serious problems in the future…