Gambling addiction is one of those issues that affects many people in different countries around the world. And almost wherever you look the number of people suffering with addiction related to gambling it is on the rise. What drives people to participate in such activities for an unhealthy amount of time? Despite the fact that gambling has managed to generate plenty of revenue and income for countries, it’s unfortunate to say that the economic costs of it are often left on the shoulders of those who can least afford it.
We’re here to look at exactly how gambling affects people in the lowest income brackets and ultimately whether addiction affects poorer communities disproportionately. Naturally, if it is the case that more disadvantages people are dealing with addiction a more significant level, then there’s little wonder that it’s spiraling out of control as the equality gap in the world continues to increase. How can governments deal with this? And is there a difference from country to country?
Various studies have taken place within the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, which report a relationship between both problem gambling and poverty. Obviously, the former can lead to the latter in several instances. However, why does it seem that more deprived people and communities participate in gambling to a greater degree than more wealthy communities?
Some of the studies that were conducted in these countries place a focus on a specific part of the population – namely those who are more vulnerable to being captured by gambling addiction. A focus was also placed on homelessness, low income and any disadvantages due to the neighbourhood they lived in. The populations within the studies include those groups of people who have previously been, and in some cases still are, oppressed, as well as those with fairly complex needs, too. The latter of these can include people with mental illness or substance abuse issues.
From those studies, it has been found that various groups of people are more susceptible to suffering with gambling problems. They include, among others, the unemployed or those on low income, as well as those living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and suffering from homelessness. Of course, the latter of these pretty much serves as a measure for poverty in the majority of the studies conducted.
As it happens, the presence of problem gambling in the homeless population is said to be significantly higher, with roughly nine times more suffering from such than the general population. People within the low income/unemployed bracket tend to spend a higher percentage of their household income on games of chance as well, than those who are within a higher income bracket. Given that the risk of gambling related harm increases quite significantly when more than 1% of gross family income is spent on gambling activities, this is quite an important figure.
With regard to those experiencing homelessness at the moment, the majority of those people stated that they had issues with gambling prior to such. This has led studies to uncover the fact that two significant life events that could lead to homelessness include job loss and gambling problems. And with job loss and gambling problems going hand-in-hand as well, it could be said that they often contribute to that same outcome in one go.
It is also thought that unemployment can also lead to excessive gambling issues. Without a form of employment, people can turn to gambling as a way of coping through their daily lives.
The Effect of Neighbourhood Disadvantage
In a study conducted by Grace M. Barnes and colleagues, young adults and adults living in the United States were questioned on the status of where they currently reside. The results were examined so as to provide information on the effects of neighbourhood disadvantage may lead to problem gambling. According to the research carried out, neighbourhood disadvantage was quite the significant risk factor in connection to problem gambling.
As it stands, those neighbourhoods that are considered to be at a disadvantage will likely be determined as poorer locations, with residents in a lower income bracket. Those living in the poorest neighbourhoods have significantly increased chances of developing a gambling problem due to their surroundings. At the same time, problem gambling stood out as being something that would affect those with low socioeconomic status when compared with those with higher socioeconomic status.
Within that same study, Barnes and colleagues found that men were more likely to suffer from problem gambling by 2x when compared to females. Furthermore, African Americans had significantly increased odds of being problem gamblers when compared with other ethnicities and races.
This research led to the discovery that those living in the poorest neighbourhoods and with the lowest level of socioeconomic status also have a significantly increased risk of developing a gambling problem.
Research Speaks Volumes
Many people may think that those with higher volumes of money would be likely to fall into problem gambling. After all, they’ve got more to wager, and therefore, larger amounts to potentially lose as well. However, let’s just say that for arguments sake, a man brings home £300 one week from his job, while another brings home £1,000. They each opt to spend 20% of their income on gambling – that’s £60 for the first man and £200 for the second. By the end of that, the second man will still have at least £800 for his other expenditure. The first one will have £240.
Now, it may be possible that both of them will win on their chosen gambling activity and bolster their balance. However, it’s also possible that they’ll both lose a significant amount in the end. Yet, someone on a lower income bracket is more likely to try chasing after their losses to make up for the smaller amount of money they have. In this respect, they’re also more likely to end up spending over what they can afford on gambling activities, too.
How is it possible to reduce the harms for those experiencing such issues with gambling addiction? Especially if they’re considered to be impoverished as well. The research suggests that it’s important to increase the awareness of the link between problem gambling and related conditions, such as mental illness or substance abuse. That awareness should be known by those working with people suffering from such vulnerabilities.
Not only that though, but general awareness of such should be created, with targeted marketing for it within disadvantaged neighbourhoods. At the same time, integrated services and support for clients, in one location so as to ensure uptake with enhanced access, should be introduced. Meanwhile, communication training should be handed out to those people working with vulnerable clients.
Problem Gambling and Poverty In The Extreme
It was in 2017 that the news of Eric Baptista was reported, who went on a rampage in Liverpool with a hammer. As a problem gambler, he spoke of going to his local bookies and begging them to bar him from entering. However, they refused to stop serving him, and he would regularly lose upwards of £400 in a matter of minutes by utilising their fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). Today, the maximum stake on those machines has been reduced significantly from £100 to £2 within the UK.
However, Baptista went ahead and took his won drastic action in May of 2017. After losing a £100 bet at the William Hill retail outlet on Aigburth Road, he turned dangerously violent. Proceeding to purchase two tins of black paint from the store next door, he set about smearing it all over everything in his path. Baptista would then visit six other outlets in a 3-week period, smashing up terminals, in-store gambling machines and TV screens within. In the end, he ended up causing £36,000 worth of damage.
Upon pleading guilty to criminal damage, a Liverpool crown court heard that during one of his rampages over the three weeks, he shouted: “This is a protect. I am sorry; there is no safety net for customers”. Baptista also argued that while he worked as a barman, he wouldn’t proceed with pouring pints for people who had had too many, so why did the bookies continue to let him gamble, knowing he was an addict?
This story may seem a little disconnected, but Baptista wasn’t on a high income himself. Gambling has been discovered to be an industry that tends to prey on the poor and the vulnerable in order to survive. And it is because of this sort of behaviour that top companies, such as 888, have had fines handed out to them by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission, for failing their customers. More than 7,000 people had self-excluded from the 888 platforms but were provided access to their accounts to continue gambling despite this.
Research has found that for many gambling addicts, they struggle to even set foot outside just for a pint of milk from the local store without going into a betting shop on the way. The high streets have become quite plagued by betting shops over the years. So much so, that you don’t have to walk very far to come across a local bookmaker store. That same research has also discovered that people living in area with a higher number of bookies are more likely to be problem gamblers, too. London saw a 68% rise in violent crime associated with betting shops in 2017, which is a huge increase since 2010.
Betting shops have even been shown to be clustering in areas of poverty. For example, poorer areas like Manchester Central and Liverpool Riverside were found to have beyond 50 betting shops operating within them, while richer UK districts like Wirral West and Henley had very few or none at all.
The Effects of Online Gambling
Of course, not all gambling takes place in retail outlets. Instead, the online gambling sector has experienced quite the boom in customers over the past several years, with mobile betting also garnering quite the following as well. Yet, does this make it easier for disadvantaged people to suffer at the hands of addiction?
Well, for those who are considered homeless, it’s less likely that they’ll possess a computer or mobile device. However, people on low incomes or receiving benefits from the government can still utilise computers and mobile devices. And with masses of online casinos, sportsbooks, poker rooms and so on being readily accessible, it’s little wonder that the number of problem gamblers is on the rise.
While people can be seen in public at retail stores placing their bets (not that this pushes others into action in a bid to help them out if they seem addicted), being able to gamble online from home puts them in a much more vulnerable position. After all, they can do it out of the sight of others. Despite the moves that have been made by the UKGC and the government, they have only tackled the land-based betting operations for the time being. Online gambling platforms are still at large, and likely will be for a long time. Can anything be done to effectively curb the number of problem gamblers, and more so, the number of poorer problem gamblers?
Many campaigners have tried rallying for something to be done after witnessing friends and family members suffer under such an addiction. And while the UKGC has spent a lot of time recently tightening up its monitoring of the gambling industry, the fact remains that the gambling sector brings in too much revenue for the government to really want to do a whole lot about it. Changes to the law surrounding gambling in the UK, which is currently regulated by the Gambling Act 2005, may introduce more stringent rules for platforms. However, can it be said that any sort of new Act would really tackle the gambling industry online as well as offline?