THERE are calls for Glasgow to lead the way and tackle the growing risks of gambling with a summit of experts.

Medical professionals and academics have labelled gambling a “significant public health issue” – with research showing it hits the poorest communities the hardest.

Glasgow City Council is calling for a summit to bring together specialists, researchers, councillors, charities and those with experience of gambling harm to thrash out how the problems can be tackled.

Professor Gerda Reith, from the University of Glasgow, said: “It’s a great idea. It would be great if Glasgow and Scotland could lead the way on another public health issue.”

Plans for a summit arose from a council session organised to inform councillors about gambling risks, where Laura McDonald, a research assistant at the University of Glasgow, highlighted evidence showing ‘clustering’ of alcohol, fast food, tobacco and gambling outlets in more deprived areas in the city.

These clusters included Duke Street, around Gallowgate and Westmuir Street in Parkhead, Victoria Road, Govanhill, and Dumbarton Road, Partick.

Ms Reith, a professor in social sciences, who has been researching gambling for around 20 years, was one of the authors on a paper on gambling harms published in the British Medical Journal in May. It calls for a radical overhaul of UK gambling laws, including a tax on the industry to fund prevention programmes. She said gambling has a “wide-ranging population impact”, going beyond “the health of the individual” and impacting on both physical and mental health as well as families, friends and the workplace.

It is the addiction with the highest rate of suicide, Professor Reith added. Her research has found gambling harms are often underestimated, partly because it’s a “very hidden addiction” unlike alcoholism or drug abuse which have physical signs. “It’s not like that with gambling. You can lose £10,000 in a night and you’ll still look the same.

“People often don’t want to speak out, especially if they have turned to crime to fund their addiction.

“Poorer people might not do it any more [than more affluent people] but when they do they suffer the effects a lot more.

“They don’t have as much money to lose and when you’re poor you tend to have a lot of other problems, too.”

Professor Reith said one of the big issues is mobile gambling, particularly targeted advertising on smartphones. Betting shops represent 22 percent of the gambling spend in the UK and the Association of British Bookmakers in Scotland has committed to working with the council to address any concerns.

“Thousands of betting shops in the UK are closing as a result of regulatory changes introduced by the UK Government, which will result in the loss of jobs in Scotland,” a spokesman said.

“Although there will be fewer bookmakers in Scotland, we will continue to put responsible gambling at the heart of our approach.

“Our aim is to ensure an enjoyable and safe environment for our customers. Betting shops have already introduced a range of safer gambling measures including the ability to set your own time and spend limits, mandatory alerts and a nationwide self exclusion scheme.”

Alongside the summit, the council session outlined the need for a stronger focus on education and to assess best practice to prevent harm across the world. It also found the council should work with the Gambling Commission, Scottish and UK governments to look at what can be done to combat clusters of ‘environmental harms’.

Councillors have been asked to endorse calls for a summit at a meeting on Thursday.