A Christian social policy charity has warned that the UK Government is "failing the most vulnerable" by consistently delaying action to tighten the country's gambling laws.
CARE has challenged ministers on the issue after new statistics show online betting has reached its highest rate ever in the UK, with one in four people making wagers.
The most popular form of online gambling was sports betting, in particular football, outside of the National Lottery and other lotteries.
The survey by the Gambling Commission asked respondents about gambling on four occasions between June 2021 and March 2022. It showed 43 per cent had gambled in the previous four weeks, which is a decrease from the pre-pandemic participation rates of 47 per cent in March 2020.
However, the research published on Tuesday also revealed that younger Brits are most affected. Around 35 per cent of 16-24-year-olds surveyed said they have gambled in the past four weeks, which is an increase of 5 per cent.
Ross Hendry, CEO of CARE, said¨ "These statistics provide yet more evidence of the grip the gambling industry has on our society and should reanimate debate about the resultant dangers. For most people, gambling is a bit of fun but for a significant and growing minority, it is a gateway to an addiction that ruins lives, families and communities".
The data also reveals that more 55 to 64-year-olds are gambling and they are also the group with the highest increase in online gambling.
Meanwhile, in-person gambling rates have increased again by 3 per cent from last year, signifying signs of recovery since the pandemic.
Analysis of the data by the UK Addiction Treatment Group (UKAT) said that the rate of those in the moderate risk of addiction category has gone up. Women at moderate risk of addiction increased from 0.4 per cent in March 2021 to 0.9 per cent this year.
Hendry added: "The situation is made far worse by our outdated gambling laws, which are not fit for purpose having been drafted before the proliferation of online betting and advertising across various media. Ministers know the gravity of the situation and the need to bring stricter regulation, yet they have delayed a whitepaper on reform.
"People are suffering, acutely, and will go on suffering until the government brings proper regulation that is fit for the 21st century. We urge them to do so now."
The Government is developing a white paper on the issue.