The act of gambling is as old as time itself. Ever since our species became able to reason we have enjoyed placing wagers of one kind or another; whether the reward was money or pride we love to test ourselves and each other.
And why not? It’s good fun, it’s potentially rewarding (both for our pockets and our egos) and it’s not hurting anybody. That is, as long as we gamble responsibly. The problem comes when someone loses control, changes their wagering behaviour, and starts to gamble irresponsibly.
You should always be able to safely recognise your limits and know when, and how, to stop. If you think you have already passed this point then don’t worry and don’t be ashamed, you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last, but do read this article and take our advice on how to seek help and get back on track.
If you are here for a friend then first of all good for you for stepping up, secondly, read the article in full so you are as well informed and best placed to help as possible.
Either way, whether you are the person needing help or the person doing the helping, you got this. *Fist bump*
Problem Gambling in the UK
Problem gambling is also referred to as gambling addiction or compulsive gambling. A person is considered to have a gambling addiction if they have the urge to continuously gamble despite the harm it is causing them and other people around them. Of course, like all addictions, people experience this on different levels.
For some it might be excessive lottery tickets or pumping money into online slots, others might spend too much time in the local arcade, and of course plenty of people fit the stereotypical description and blow way more money than they can afford in casino’s.
It is estimated that 350,000 people in the UK suffer with gambling addiction in one form or another, and shockingly, it is thought that just 5% of them seek help while only 1% of them actually have treatment.
With 24/7 access to various different gambling channels, be it online or late night physical locations, it’s very easy to feed the habit, and many people believe that global recession is also a contributing factor.
To combat this, the UK Government, as well as the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), have put many rules and restrictions in place. In fact, the gambling industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world.
For a start, any business that wants to provide gambling services needs to obtain a license to do so from the UKGC, and in order to do that they need to be compliant with the law, and with the license conditions and codes of practice.
The UKGC will keep tabs on all companies, reviewing them regularly and even making visits to the businesses themselves. Anyone found to be in breach of their license can be fined, and in severe cases have their licenses revoked. The regulating body isn’t shy about doing this either, and fines can reach eye-watering sums so be assured that the bookies, etc. take notice.
The biggest fine on record was £7.8 million, and 888 Holdings have the dubious honour of holding that particular record, for “serious failings in their handling of vulnerable customers.” £3.5 million of this money was returned to gamblers who had attempted to opt out yet still been allowed to deposit, while £4.25 million went to a socially responsible cause to help fight problem gambling.
How to Spot a Potential Gambling Problem
It’s may seem obvious to an outsider, but for the person who is affected, it isn’t always clear that they have a problem until it is too late.
If you think you might be developing a problem, or you recognise some of the following traits in a friend or family member, then it’s time to seek help:
- You are in debt.
- You think about gambling throughout the day.
- You have borrowed/stolen money to gamble.
- You lie about your gambling habits.
- The outcome of your wagers affects your mood (getting angry or irritable when you lose, etc.)
- Your friends or loved ones have begun to show concern or lose trust in you.
- You skip work or turn down social invitations to gamble instead.
- You spend more time gambling than doing any other activity.
- You continue to gamble after you lose, chasing losses.
- You create stories/reasons that justify your behaviour, and try to convince yourself that you don’t have a problem.
This is not an exhaustive list, but they are some of the most common warning signs. It’s not just your financial situation that can be affected either, gambling addiction can also have massively detrimental effects on:
- Your health.
- Your work.
- Relationship you have with family and friends.
- Your education.
- The amount of time you have to do other things.
If this sounds like you don’t be afraid to admit that you might not be fully in control. It takes courage and integrity to admit that you need help, and you certainly aren’t alone.
It may also be useful to understand why this is happening to you or the person that you care about. After all, if you can treat the cause you could remove or at least reduce the problem.
There are no hard and fast rules as to what causes gambling addiction, but some of them could include:
- Loneliness – It might sound odd, but people need interaction and gambling can give them that.
- Stress – As an escape tactic, gambling works wonders. It can take you away from real life for a while. But real life will always come back.
- Alcohol Abuse – We all know that booze impacts on our decision making, and unfortunately almost 50% of gambling addicts are also heavy drinkers.
- Depression – Statistics show that gambling addicts are twice as likely to also suffer with depression.
- Loss/Hard Times – If you are looking for a coping mechanism gambling can fill that void, but it’s not a good solution.
- Adrenaline Rush – It’s obvious, but people get addicted to the excitement. Adrenaline can do funny things to our brains.
Responsible Gambling Tools
So what can you do about all of this?
Well, there are actually a lot of ways to limit yourself and the bookies and casinos are obligated to help you with this. They should be taking this very seriously and if you feel like they aren’t then get out of there quickly and report them to the UKGC.
A few steps you can take with the bookies themselves include:
All bettors and casino players can choose to self-exclude from as little as 24 hours to permanently. The system may be slightly different from site to site, but any trustworthy site will offer you the option.
Some might need you to contact them directly, while others might have the technology in place to allow you to set it up yourself. This basically restricts your access to the company’s products so that you can’t use them; you are asking them to refuse you service.
Self-exclusion is a great attempt to help those that are struggling, but of course, you will need to do this at every site you are signed up to in order for it to be effective. There is also nothing to stop you from then going and signing up somewhere else, so self-exclusion alone might not be enough, but it is certainly a start.
However, if you sign up at GamStop there is a much higher chance that this will be successful as you can self-exclude from any gambling site run by an operator with a UK license for a period decided by you.
All decent online gambling websites will allow you to set your own limits too, and that could be deposit limits or betting limits.
Some offer the option immediately on sign up or when you log in, but if they don’t, head to your account section and follow the onscreen instructions.
Again, this avenue is only partly effective as you can change your limits back again, but it puts a mental obstacle in the way that you have to overcome first. Plus, once you’ve changed your limit there is generally a period of at least 24 hours before you can change it again, which could be long enough to cool off.
There are a few gambling sites that will flash up reminders every so often that tell you how long you have been playing, and perhaps suggest that you take a break.
Some even have a function that will automatically log you out after a certain period of time from as little as 10 minutes, so if you are tempted to stay online and keep gambling it will cut you off.
These are hardly likely to deter someone with a serious problem, but they show willing from the company’s point of view and may jolt someone who isn’t yet suffering too badly out of a trance.
Thing You Can Do Yourself
Of course, you can get all the help in the world but ultimately it is you that needs to find a way to deal with the problem.
To help keep yourself on track, here are some tips that other people have found helpful in stopping them from spiraling out of control:
- Open a debit account specifically for gambling activity. Transfer a pre-determined amount that you can afford each month. This is your limit.
- If you go out to gamble take cash, leave all credit cards at home.
- Set yourself an alarm if you gamble online.
- Tell someone supportive you are trying to take back control so that you can be held accountable. Tell friends not to lend you money and explain why.
- Pay all bills as soon as the money hits your account, don’t wait until later.
- Try and book in social occasions well in advance and keep busy to avoid boredom gambling.
- In extreme circumstances, you could give financial control to your partner/parents.
This is software that limits your access to certain websites or specific services on the internet. You can get software that is designed to block any websites containing gambling activity, or you can get software that you can personalise yourself, so you tell it which sites to block.
Some blocking software is free and others have a charge, so it’s best to do your own research, but one of the most widely used and recognised blocking software providers is Netnanny, a general blocking program that is compatible with Windows computers, iOS and Android phones.
Yes, you are still the one in control here, but once set up a blocker is a pain to remove so it will at least give you time to think if the urge to gamble comes to you.
Independent Advice Services
A lot of the suggestions above may well be useful to someone who isn’t too far out of control, but if you think you are in serious trouble and need more professional help there is still plenty available to you.
Gamcare is the UK’s national organisation for gambling problems. They offer free support and counselling to people who have a gambling addiction or to friends and family of someone with a gambling addiction. They run a live chat service alongside the National Gambling Helpline: 0808 8020 133. These are open 8am until midnight and all contact is confidential and as anonymous as you want it to be.
There are also support chat rooms, face to face counselling services, and they will have knowledge of where you can go for help in your specific area. The company is a registered charity and the support team are all trained, experienced and professional.
Gambleaware are another charity that deals with gambling addiction and they have a lot of information and advice on their website. They don’t directly offer support – they actually direct people to GamCare for this – but what they do is fund research, prevention, and treatment for gambling addiction in the UK. This means they are a commissioning and grant-making body rather than a service provider.
The Gordon Moody Association is a charity that provides residential support for people with more severe gambling problems. They have locations in Kent and the West Midlands, but also offer outreach and online services too, providing support, signposting, and one to one and group therapy sessions.
There are certain criteria to apply, but you can do that via the website or contact them for a chat on 01384 241292 or email email@example.com
Gamblers Anonymous is an alternative option and they hold regular meetings all over the country. The idea is to talk through your problems with other people who are going through the same thing. Some meetings are for women, others allow you to bring a friend, others are aimed at newcomers.
Although this is an organisation set up by gamblers for gamblers (as opposed to a charity providing professional support), they do have a 12 step program which you can follow, and they can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or search the website for your local meeting.