Hundreds of thousands more people over 65 are gambling online than were at the start of the pandemic, the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) has said.
There were 624,377 more people aged over 65 who went online at least once a month for a flutter or to play a game of chance as the pandemic closed betting shops and lockdowns shut down their options to get out and about to do other things.
The proportion of online gamblers rose from 8.7% of over-65s in the year to September 2019 to 13.5% in 2021, according to the RCP, which studied Gambling Commission data.
This surge in 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.
A sharp rise of 341,445 people in the 45 to 54-year-old age range was the second greatest increase in this period behind the over-65s, according to the RCP estimates.
The number of 16 to 34-year-olds who gambled online fell by around 307,000 over the same period.
The RCP warns that online gambling brings potential risks due to its 24/7 availability, particularly at a time when people are at home more and may be facing financial uncertainty due to the pandemic.
The proportion of over-65s gambling in person fell from 20.1% in the year to September 2019 to 16.2% in 2021, while the proportion of 45- to 54-year-olds fell from 23.3% to 17.5%.
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 RCP, 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, notes that gambling is increasingly recognised as a health issue in the same way as drugs and alcohol.
Since 2019 the NHS has included gambling disorder 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.
One 38-year-old addict, named only as Owen, said his problems started when he was a child and led to homelessness, the loss of many jobs, years of isolation, depression and low self-worth.
Owen, who battled gambling disorder for over 16 years and is now four years in recovery, said that “for years I felt trapped, locked in a relationship with gambling” .
He managed to get help from the National Problem Gambling Clinic, where he learned the skills he needed to deal with his addiction.
He urged people to seek help and speak to a professional as soon as possible.