Housewives in growing numbers are becoming hooked on internet gambling sites, spending hours every day running up thousands of pounds in debt, according to the country's largest gambling support groups.
Gamblers Anonymous, an international fellowship for compulsive gamblers, and GamCare, a UK charity that promotes responsible attitudes towards gambling, say that more and more housewives have access to a computer and are logging onto casino and betting sites between household chores.
Both groups have reported an increase of between 10 and 20 per cent over the past year in the number of women approaching them for help with an online gambling addiction. They fear that they are particularly attracted to online gambling because it is far more woman-friendly than high street betting shops or casinos.
"Women, who might otherwise be intimidated by a whole crowd of men in a betting shop, are finding a release on the internet," said a Gamblers Anonymous spokesman. The concerns raised by the groups are also supported by a recent report issued by NetImperative, an online market-research company, which found that 39 per cent of online gamblers are women: more than a quarter of these are in the 35-49 age group. The year-long study found that almost 2,000 British housewives were regular online gamblers in March 2002, compared with about 1,100 a year earlier.
Online betting has grown rapidly in recent years and the Internet gaming industry is thought to generate annual revenues of £7 billion. The pressure from offshore Internet betting sites, which pay no tax in Britain, forced the Government to scrap betting tax three years ago. Although it is still illegal to operate an online casino based in Britain, a White Paper being considered by MPs has suggested that the restriction be abolished.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has said that a final decision will be taken in 2004 but it is expected that British companies will be able to set up UK-based internet gambling sites, regulated by a gambling commission.
Mark Griffiths, a professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham who has published several papers on internet gambling, said that the growing number of housewives addicted to online gambling reflected a "mass cultural shift that is taking gambling out of the casino and into the home or workplace".