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Monday, 22 September 2014

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Credit unions' concern as Cumbrians risk debt for online gambling

AN INCREASING number of Cumbrians are risking debt as they dabble in online gambling, experts have warned.

Staff at credit unions across north and west Cumbria say they have seen growing evidence that people – particularly young men – are increasingly turning to internet gambling sites.

They say people are being tempted to get involved by the offer of free bets and the possibility of a big win.

Staff at credit unions in Whitehaven and Carlisle and Eden say that they now regularly see evidence that people are logging on to gambling websites, including ones for bingo and poker.

Mandy Johnston, from the Carlisle & District Credit Union, said online gambling now regularly features in bank statements submitted by people who are applying to save with the community bank.

She said: “It’s definitely increased, I suppose partly because it’s all so easily accessible now through smart phones. Young men in particular are at risk: it seems to be an in thing with them. In the current economic climate, some might think it’s the answer.

“Gambling is not a problem in itself, but it is if you can’t afford it. People are not always aware of how much they are spending on it.

“I saw one girl who was spending £100 a week on it. There should be more education about the risks in schools.”

Andrea Dockeray, from the Credit Union in Whitehaven, said she had seen increasing evidence of online gambling over the last six months.

She said: “When you go through people’s bank statements, there are more and more payments for online gambling.

“There are also a lot more adverts for this on television at various times of the day. The trouble is that it can be addictive and it’s an issue that could get people into a really bad debt situation.”

Richard Mottram is from the Cumbria Counselling Group, which provides counselling in the county for GamCare, the organisation offering help to people for whom gambling is a problem. He said the group’s counsellors had seen 237 people in Cumbria over the last five years, 20 of them from Carlisle last year.

In Carlisle and Eden, there are thought to be about 700 problem gamblers.

Mr Mottram said: “We expect to see more problems with the internet and mobile phone gambling because they’re so much more available.

“Younger people are more prone to this and students are particularly vulnerable. That’s because they’re usually managing money for the first time; they’re already in debt through the loan system; they’ve access to the right technology; and they may encounter peers claiming to have gambled successfully.”

PColeman@cngroup.co.uk

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