Under-18s should be banned from using fruit machines to prevent gambling addictions, doctors have said.
A report from the British Medical Association warned that addiction to gambling would rise after the law is relaxed in September.
Young people are most at risk and research has shown that using slot machines is addictive and linked to delinquent behaviour.
Today the BMA recommended a review of slot machine access and whether it should be restricted to over-18s only.
A leaked police report also expressed concerns about the Government’s plan to expand gambling, warning it would boost crime and anti-social behaviour.
The reports are highly embarrassing for Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, who has played down potential problems.
Ms Jowell is expected to reveal the site of Britain’s first supercasino in a fortnight, with the Millennium Dome thought to be the frontrunner.
In the BMA report today, doctors warned that people who could least afford it were the most likely to succumb to gambling addiction.
There are currently about 300,000 problem gamblers in the UK but this is expected to rise once the law change takes effect.
The report said adolescents who gambled were more likely to become addicted as adults, and almost one in five young people currently played fruit machines at least once a week.
Research has shown that playing fruit machines is linked to truancy, stealing, getting into trouble with teachers and parents, borrowing cash or using lunch money to play the machines, poor schoolwork and aggressive behaviour.
A BMA spokesman said: „Tough action is required to deal with this and banning under-18s from using slot machines could be a starting point.“
The report recommends:
– Treatment for problem gambling should be provided under the NHS.
– Gambling operators should pay at least £10 million a year for research, prevention and treatment programmes.
– Research into the link between internet gaming sites and problem gambling.
– Gambling operators should supply information on addiction, treatment and services to customers.
– Adolescent gambling should be taken as seriously as adult problem gambling.
-Slot machines should be reviewed to ensure they are not accessible to adolescents.
Shadow culture secretary Hugo Swire said: „The Government’s reforms were supposed to tackle problem gambling and organised crime, yet in the last 24 hours, reports from both the police and doctors warn that the opposite is likely to occur.
„It is particularly concerning that both reports warn that children are likely to be among the victims of gambling addiction.
„It seems astonishing that Tessa Jowell is prepared to ignore these concerns in her desire to make Britain a haven for gambling.“
The BMA’s head of science and ethics, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, said: „Problem gambling is associated with a number of health problems and the BMA is concerned that there are insufficient treatment facilities available.
„Psychological problems can include anxiety, depression, guilt and suicidal thoughts. Relationships can also be affected.“
Author of the BMA report, Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University, said gambling online, via mobile phones or interactive television had doubled since 2001 and was a cause for concern.
Lib-Dem culture spokesman Don Foster said: „We now need an urgent review of the size of the problem in this country and a reassessment of just how much funding is needed to combat it.“