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Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, founder and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, said more women are gambling than ever before.

"The proliferation of online gambling has brought into the home an activity that was historically male-dominated."Betting firms have not given up on their traditional working-class betting shop users but want to maximise profits with the proliferation of fixed-odds gaming machines.

In addition to the 450,000 problem gamblers in the UK – up more than 200,000 since 2007, with an average debt of £17,500 each – the British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) found that another 900,000 people were at "moderate risk" of becoming problem gamblers, while 2.7 million more displayed "some risk factors".

Campaigners and support groups find it increasingly difficult to cope.

Visitors to Gam Care's website rose by more than 100,000 in 2012 compared with 2011.