Has online gambling become a public health emergency?

It often starts at a young age with a sit-down in April with a parent or family member, and tells you that you have to choose a horse from a 40-strong national field that they will bet a small bet on you.

You choose from a humorous name or colorful outfit – and it's all made to order.

As you get older, it develops into a strange accumulator on football, a new trip or two to the casino, a few times at a time about the fruity and strange purchase of Lotto tickets and scratch cards.

Although this may seem relatively harmless at first sight – for some it may be the gateway bet that makes them addicted to a downward spiral of harmful addiction.

Vegas, within reach: nowadays it is easier than ever to gamble, even on the move - simply by going online via smartphone or tablet

Vegas, within reach: nowadays it is easier than ever to gamble, even on the move – simply by going online via smartphone or tablet

And more Britons fall into this gambling flare than ever before.

Personally, I have gambled on all of the above – and still, very occasionally, but never more than I can afford to lose. But even though I was in my early 30s, I grew up in a different era.

My only chance to gamble before I was 16 was that my father encouraged me to pick a horse during the most insane, unpredictable meeting of the year and that he would rush into a smoky bookmaker to place the bet – and sometimes stood he allowed me to choose the lottery numbers.

Today, we are bombarded with television and online gambling ads, shirt sponsors on sports teams and the biggest threat of all, the ease with which gambling can be done in the comfort of your own home without an awkward phone betting account.

The biggest obstacle for those who were previously gambling was that they had to enter one of those old-fashioned bookmakers or set up an awkward phone bill and that deterred many.

But now, with a few quick taps and swipes from a smartphone or tablet, bets can be placed on football matches in Azerbaijan and Oscar results in LA – along with flashy roulette wheels and slot games to boot.

There has been a recent advertisement – & # 39; Bet Regret & # 39; – in which we see someone betting on their phone after a few drinks in a kebab shop at an obscure football game, and another in which a man gambles at a horse race, he knows nothing on the toilet.

It emphasizes that many simply gamble as & # 39; something to do & # 39; and they have the means to do this now through phones that travel with us everywhere – and for many it becomes a habit that is hard to stop.

Clean up: Sheridan Smith played Sam Cook, who had a gambling addiction in the fictional ITV show

Clean up: Sheridan Smith played Sam Cook, who had a gambling addiction in the fictional ITV show

Clean up: Sheridan Smith played Sam Cook, who had a gambling addiction in the fictional ITV show

And it's not just a male-oriented problem.

As recent fictional ITV Cleaning Up with Sheridan Smith highlights, women can also be addicted to cuddly looking sites that promote bingo and other themed games that you can gamble on – and end up in dangerous debts.

Recently I was at an event for selling baby shoes, hiding in the corner with my young daughter in her buggy while my partner was shopping. I stood next to two other fathers.

It was a Saturday and both stood on their tablet with bets at the football matches of the day, largely ignoring their children.

Another example was during the recent Cheltenham Festival – my commuter train was littered with people who placed bets on their phones.

Again, it emphasizes the ease with which people can gamble today, and betting firms have seen a wave of online customers and winnings in recent years.

Much has been said about crackdown on the gambling industry and better protection of our children. But at the moment it seems to talk a lot, not a lot of action.

For example, in February I watched the thrilling rugby match between England and Ireland Six Nations (after the excitement of selling the baby boot) and the game was littered with gambling ads with a high octane rating.

If I sat there in a few years with my daughter more aware of what was really going on, she would be exposed to it without an option.

Certainly, in this high-tech day, television viewers can choose to turn these ads off?

Worryingly enough, the Advertising Standards Authority recently made a number of children's avatars online and simulated the typical behavior on the internet.

It was an exercise to see which types of advertisements are flooded with children while they are online.

During a two-week period, a total of 23 gambling advertisements were displayed 151 times on 11 of the monitored child websites.

Grand National: It's one of the most horse racing bets in the world - and it's easier than ever to gamble on it

Grand National: It's one of the most horse racing bets in the world - and it's easier than ever to gamble on it

Grand National: It's one of the most horse racing bets in the world – and it's easier than ever to gamble on it

Meanwhile, Labor Deputy Leader Tom Watson said at a seminar in a think tank policy this week that & # 39; current gambling laws are completely inappropriate for the digital age & # 39 ;.

He added: “Problem gambling is the hidden epidemic of Britain. We must treat it as an emergency to public health.

Looking for help?

If you are looking for help, advice or support with regard to your games of chance, go to: BeGambleAware.org

Or contact the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133.

& # 39; Gambling in the offline world is highly regulated, the lack of control over online gambling means that vulnerable consumers suffer huge losses. & # 39;

It's hard to disagree.

As for the Grand National last weekend, I fluttered a little by entering a (smokeless) bookmaker – but I won't encourage my daughter to do the same as she gets older.

Estimates show that many people used a credit card to bet on the event that cost millions in fees – and many may have done so because they have no money elsewhere.

It is time for credit card betting, stricter advertising requirements, exposure to gambling children to be better controlled and those who gamble in a regular pattern of self-harm should be identified and helped faster.