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Serving RAF personnel are four times more likely to be problem gamblers than the rest of the population, according to a study that also found high rates of excessive drinking and depression.

The research by the RAF Benevolent Fund, the first of its kind, found one in 50 airmen and women were problem gamblers, a condition defined as undermining people’s ability to do their jobs and maintain good family relations.

This compared with one in 200 of the general population with researchers linking the greater prevalence among RAF crews to the amount of unsupervised downtime they had, deployments away from family, their disposable incomes and a greater propensity to risk taking.

Alison Wyman, associate director of the Fund, said gambling was a “hidden” problem because of the ease with which staff could conceal it. This placed a greater onus on both betting firms and the RAF to be alert to the danger signs.

Tip into problem gambling

“Everyone has a responsibility to be aware of the signs and symptoms that someone might be at increased risk of engaging in behaviour that could tip into problem gambling,” she said.

The Church of England also demanded that betting firms should be forced by law to introduce affordability checks on gamblers as it warned of a “worrying” surge in problem gambling in the military.

Dr Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans and vice-chair of Peers for Gambling Reform,  said: “Those starting out in their career, serving our nation, should not be being exploited by gambling firms.

“Yet until legally binding affordability checks are introduced there is little to stop this behaviour. The Government can solve this problem – both for our servicemen and women and for wider society. I look to them to act swiftly.”

The study, of 2,000 staff, found one in six (16 per cent) of RAF personnel were at risk of having gambling problems because of their betting. Ten per cent were at low risk, four per cent were at moderate risk and two per cent registered scores on psychological tests of being problem gamblers.

Those with gambling problems tended to be men aged 18 to 24 and were non-commissioned. The report recommended screening of staff  and training for medical staff and managers to spot gambling-related harms such as family or job problems.

Symptoms of depression

A similar proportion of 2.4 per cent – one in 40 – were found to be potentially dependent on alcohol, double the rate in the general population.

A further 24 per cent drank at levels of increasing risk and three per cent were at higher risk of problematic drinking. Fifty-five per cent reported symptoms of depression and 60 per cent suffered symptoms of anxiety.

Air Marshal Andrew Turner, deputy commander capability for the RAF, said: “Our people are often in more stressful and remote situations and so we must strive to drive down the incidence and impact of these behaviours and activities as far as we can.”

The report concluded: “There is a need for increased awareness and recognition of potential gambling problems among serving RAF personnel.

“While it is a minority of RAF personnel who are affected by gambling problems, those who are struggling with them are experiencing significant harm and there is a higher rate of at-risk gambling compared to the general population.”

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