Hundreds of thousands more people over 65 in the UK are gambling online than at the start of the pandemic, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has said.
An estimated 624,377 more people aged over 65 gambled online at least once a month in 2021, compared with 2019, as the pandemic closed betting shops and lockdowns limited people's options to get out and do other things, research showed.
The proportion of over-65s who gambled online rose from 8.7 percent in the year to September 2019 to 13.5 percent in the year to September 2021, according to the study of Gambling Commission data.
A sharp rise of 341,445 people in the 45 to 54-year-old age range was the second greatest increase, according to the Royal College’s estimates.
This surge in middle-aged and older gamblers was accompanied by an increase over the same period in the overall number of people who went online to bet at least once a month.
The number of 16 to 34-year-olds who gambled online fell by around 307,000 over the same period.
In contrast, the proportion of over-65s gambling in person fell from 20.1 percent in the year to September 2019 to 16.2 percent in 2021, whereas the proportion of 45- to 54-year-olds fell from 23.3 percent to 17.5 percent.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists warned that online gambling brought potential health risks due to its 24/7 availability, particularly at a time when people were at home more and may be facing financial uncertainty due to the pandemic.
Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones of the RCP said: "The pandemic has shaken our lives in so many ways and these data show that many more older people are gambling online than were before the start of the pandemic.
"Not everyone who gambles will develop a gambling disorder, but some will. Gambling disorder is an illness and, if left untreated, can lead to significant depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts."
The college, which has published a new online information tool to help anyone who is worried about their gambling or knows someone whose gambling is becoming a problem, said that gambling was increasingly being recognised as a health issue in the same way as drugs and alcohol.
Since 2019, the NHS has included gambling disorders in its long-term plan and a number of clinics are available across the country to deliver treatment to anyone who needs it, including family members.
Concerns about problem gambling, particularly for underage and vulnerable players, are expected to play a large role in the UK government’s ongoing review of gambling law, particularly after a Department of Health report estimated the cost to English society to be in excess of £1.27bn a year.
However, the UK’s overall problem gambling rate and moderate risk rate has decreased over the past year, according to Gambling Commission data.
Problem gambling rates in the UK fell to just 0.3 percent in the third quarter of 2021, declining from 0.6 percent during the same period in the previous year. The moderate risk rate also declined from 1.2 percent in September 2020 to 0.7 percent in 2021.
Posting on Twitter, trade group the Betting and Gaming Council said that the number over-65s at moderate risk of developing a gambling problem had fallen from 0.9 percent to 0.1 percent over the last four years.
“More people of all ages will have been using online products due to the closure of shops due to COVID. Additionally, some players will have gambled online while shops were closed and then shifted back to retail, so will appear in both statistics,” the group argued.
Additional reporting by Joe Ewens