Gambling Addicts in Leeds Denied Access to Treatment Clinic

Leeds city skyline
A gambling clinic will open in Leeds in April, but for now the city’s problem gamblers cannot access help.

30-second summary

  • Leeds is set to open the UK’s second gambling addiction treatment clinic in April
  • The city has an estimated 63,000 problem or at-risk gamblers
  • Councilors are frustrated that they can’t help
  • Betting shop employees watch problem gamblers lose money

Leeds, a former industrial city in northern England, is shortly to open the UK’s second specialized gambling clinic. But, in the meantime, the city’s problem gamblers cannot access help.

City councilors have expressed frustration that they cannot refer addicts to the new clinic yet. And shocking reports have emerged that staff in betting shops allow problem gamblers to keep gambling.

Hidden problem

The prosperous city of Leeds has a shiny exterior of new shopping malls and a thriving financial services sector. It is a city that has reinvented itself, from a place of huge wealth during the Industrial Revolution through a serious decline in the 1970s and 1980s. And now it is on the up again, enjoying a boom last seen 100 years ago.

But Leeds has a dark underbelly – it is a city struggling with record numbers of problem gamblers. Despite the external gloss, the city has some of the UK’s worst pockets of social and economic deprivation, as well as high unemployment. It also has record numbers of people who are addicted to gambling.

The most recent local survey of problem gamblers in Leeds was undertaken by the university in 2016. The research was commissioned by the city council and estimates that around 8% of the population are problem gamblers or at risk. The national average is around 6%. In a city of 785,000 people, this equates to some 63,000 problem gamblers or those at risk.

New treatment clinic

Help for Leeds’ problem gamblers has been patchy. Only one specialized gambling support service exists. It is run by the North East Council for Addictions (NECA) on behalf of gambling charity GamCare and offers advice and treatment. It is funded by the Responsible Gambling Trust, through a voluntary industry levy.

Problem gamblers can refer themselves to the NECA clinic, which is struggling to fulfill rising demand for help. In 2015, the clinic was able to support just 252 people.

In November 2018, the National Health Service (NHS) announced that Leeds would be the location of the UK’s second specialized clinic for treating gambling addiction. The NHS Northern Gambling Clinic is due to open next month and is being funded by gambling charity GambleAware.

The facility will be run by the local NHS trust and a private company called GamCare. The annual running cost is estimated at £1.2m ($1.5m) a year. The clinic plans to open satellite outreach units across the north of England once it is fully up and running.

Councilors demand more help

Meanwhile, the local newspaper, the Yorkshire Post, reported that city councilors in Leeds are furious that local problem gamblers cannot access help.

Licensing officers met recently and were told by Councilor Ryk Downes that problem gamblers were obliged to self-refer for treatment. He said: “The very last person who can address the addiction is the addict themselves. If they can go into somewhere to get help for themselves they are not going to. There is no way an operator is forced to do anything about it if they see someone suffering from it.”

Another councillor, Gerry Harper, said he had visited a betting shop in the city center. There he watched a problem gambler repeatedly feeding a fixed odds betting terminal. He said: “He was there for about 20 minutes and must have lost £300 ($395). The staff didn’t say anything to him.”

A licensing officer revealed that they routinely visit betting shops to check on them. He said: “We went into one where someone was kicking the machine because he had lost so much money. The staff are supposed to be trained to see someone who appears to be distressed by gambling. All they can physically do is give them a leaflet.”

He added that the new clinic would offer psychiatric and psychological support for problem gamblers.

But no one knows where the clinic is yet. The licensing officer told the councillors: “It will be in somewhere in Leeds. I can’t say the location yet but we are working on it.”

And for now, problem gamblers will continue to be given just a leaflet.