The debate surrounding the introduction of Las Vegas-style super-casinos in the UK has raised concern among doctors that a relaxation in gambling laws could lead to an increase in gambling addiction.
John Middleton, director of health at Sandwell Primary Care Trust, believes that the general liberalisation of gambling introduces more opportunity, not more choice. If super-casinos go ahead, he thinks this is likely to heighten employees’ awareness of other gambling routes to losing their money.
“Problematic or pathological gambling nearly doubled when new super-casinos opened in Niagara and Atlantic City in the US,” says Middleton. “This serious, even catastrophic, form of addiction overtakes people’s lives completely, preventing people from thinking straight and doing their work effectively.”
Research conducted earlier this year by IT consultancy Morse reveals that online gambling is costing businesses more than £300m every year in lost productivity, with 30% of employees admitting they had placed a bet online during office hours at least once a week.
Consultant Philip Wicks at Morse says: “Many employees have unmonitored access to the internet. Being able to follow most sporting events online, coupled with the rise of gambling websites, has tempted employees to place quick bets online.”
He advises employers not to turn a blind eye to online gambling in the workplace.
But while Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University, argues that the growing availability of internet gambling, telephone betting and spread betting makes it easier to gamble at work, for most people gambling is not a serious problem. He says it could even encourage team spirit, where groups of colleagues take part in National Lottery syndicates or office sweepstakes.
However, he warns employers that a worker with a gambling addiction can affect both the organisation and other work colleagues. “This activity will be the most important thing in their life, which they will focus on to the detriment of everything else – including their job,” says Griffiths.
Tell-tale signs of problem gambling at work could typically include misuse of time, mysterious disappearances, long lunch breaks, unexplained sick leave, theft, lower productivity, and frequent requests for salary advances.
“Gambling has not been viewed as an occupational issue at any serious level,” says Griffiths. He advises employers to raise awareness of gambling issues through e-mail notices, by displaying leaflets and posters around the building, and by offering support to identified problem gamblers.
“Ask employees to be vigilant, check the monthly telephone bills of staff and – where legal – web use, as frequently-used internet gambling sites are likely to have been bookmarked.”
Finally, develop a workplace policy on gambling at work, so that employees know where they stand.
Four hot tips
1 In the UK, four million people per month gamble online
2 Online gambling is forecast to grow by 22% this year
3 The industry made £5.2bn in 2006
4 There are an estimated 17,000 gambling websites on the internet
Source: University of Leeds