INTERNET searches for online casinos have soared in Bolton since lockdown began - amid concerns financial stress and isolation are putting some people at even greater risk.

The town was in the top five places in the UK where casino, and related queries, were searched for on the internet.

Overall in the UK, search interest in casinos online has hit an all time high, according to Google Trends data ­— as gambling has moved online with the closure of physical gambling venues and cancellation of sports events.

Bolton was placed fourth in the country where searches about online gambling were most popular from February 19 to May 19.

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Bolton Council’s Executive Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Cllr Sue Baines, said: “It is too early to tell what extent gambling may have increased locally since the beginning of lockdown, but national data has highlighted some concerns that some people may be struggling.

“Gambling can have a negative effect on the health and wellbeing not only of the individuals themselves but their families as well.

“As a council we work closely with the Greater Manchester Gambling Harm Reduction Programme to raise awareness of the harm gambling can do. We are also working on a local plan to ensure people can access the support they need.”

Watchdog, the Gambling Commission said there had been a national rise in online gambling, but there was no evidence yet of a rise in problem gambling.

Engaged gamblers are also said to be spending more time or money during the coronavirus lockdown,

Anna Hemmings, chief executive of GamCare, a UK charity to help with problem gambling, said there was "a concerning context for people at risk".

She said "contributing factors [to gambling problems], such as financial distress, isolation and boredom" were increasing with Covid-19.

The Gambling Commission said across the industry there had been an increase in some customers playing online slots, poker, casino gaming and virtual sports.

Gamstop is a free service that allows gamblers to self-exclude from online gambling sites with one registration and there has been a rise since lockdown began in people asking Gamstop for their self-exclusion to be reversed

In the past 30 days, searches for casinos not on Gamstop however have also increased, according to Google.

Ms Hemmings, GamCare CEO said: “As an organisation it is too early to see if gambling problems are on the rise during lockdown.

“What we do know is that contributing factors, such as financial distress, isolation and boredom are increasing with COVID-19 and Government measures.

“Combined with the availability of online gambling, there is a concerning context for people at risk.

“People need to know that help is still there 24 hours a day and that they do not need to suffer alone.

“The National Gambling Helpline is free to call and we have expanded our online services with more online information and chatrooms, a new online treatment course as well as our confidential live chat service. These can all be used discretely on laptop, tablet or mobile.”

For help visit Gamblers Anonymous www.gamblersanonymous.org.uk or Beacon Counselling Trust (NW based counselling support) https://beaconcounsellingtrust.co.uk/