Problem gamblers are costing the Government up to £1.2 billion per year, new research has found.
A study carried out by the Institute for Public Policy Research and commissioned by GambleAware estimates that problem gamblers cost the Government between £260 million and £1.2 billion each year.
This high cost proved a "strong moral case for government to be concerned", the report's authors wrote.
While up to three in four adults are estimated to gamble to some extent each year, problem gamblers account for between 0.4% and 1.1% of the population - or up to one in 91 adults.
The report also found that problem gamblers are four times more likely than the rest of the population to end up in prison, with one in 10 male inmates estimated to be problem gamblers.
Men are five times more likely to be problem gamblers than women, the authors wrote.
Health is among the public services hit hardest by problem gamblers, with the impact on hospital inpatient services estimated between £140 million and £610 million. The impact on mental health primary care is estimated between £10 million and £40 million.
Problem gamblers were also found to cost between £10 million and £60 million on welfare and employment due to unemployment benefit claims and lost tax receipts.
The cost on housing services is between £10 million and £60 million through homeless applications, and criminal justice between £40 million and £190 million due to prison sentences.
Responding to the report's findings, Martin Etches, CEO of GambleAware said that gambling was "no different to any other kind of addiction" and urged those who believe they may have a problem to get in touch with them.
While the report found that young people are the least likely to gamble, it found they are the most likely to be problem gamblers, with problem gamblers accounting for 2.1% of 16-24-year-olds, compared to 1.5% of 25-34-year-olds. Those aged 65 and over were the least likely to be problem gamblers at 0.2%.
Problem gambling was also found to be more prevalent among those on lower incomes.
While Craig Thorley, an IPPR researcher called problem gambling a "hidden addiction" and added that the report "shows the scale of the challenge for Britain's public services for the first time", adding: "This should be a wakeup call to government.
"We need a proper strategy to deal with this issue, just like we’ve had for other public health issues such as alcoholism."
The report recommended that more research was needed to fully uncover the problem, and called for the Government to develop a strategy to tackle problem gambling and ensure that local areas have systems and resources in place to deal with it.
- If you or someone you know is affected by problem gambling, you can call GamCare in confidence on 0808 8020 133, 8am to midnight, seven days a week.