With the recent media interest in the impact of problem gambling, coupled with the worrying statistics gleaned by various organisations and charities focusing on this area, you would be right in thinking that gambling is becoming the scourge of modern-day society. So, as we prepare to enter the next decade let’s look at just how problematic gambling may become and what can be done to mitigate against its impact.
In a recent survey carried out by the Gambling Commission in the UK, published in February of 2019, it was noted that 79% of those surveyed believed that the opportunities for people to indulge in gambling were too readily available, whilst 71% stated their belief that gambling posed a threat to their domestic life. At the very least it is concerning that those taking part felt that gambling is encroaching negatively on their personal and private spaces. At the very worst, since the online gaming market is expanding rapidly every year, it is suggestive of the fact that gambling could become a cataclysmic issue for society in the 2020s. Perhaps most worrying is that the same survey reported that National Lottery participants were not merely gambling for the entertainment value, but with the intent on winning – 53% of those surveyed stated this was their purpose. There is a strong correlation between problem gambling and those gambling to make money – it can and often does become a vicious cycle. The survey reports 46% of people asked as having participated in a gambling activity of some sort over the preceding four-week period – that’s almost 1 in 2 people! Nationally our population plays the lottery more than any other form of gambling – 28% of participants indulged in a flutter on the National Lottery – keeping in mind the fact that the National Lottery also has the lowest legal gambling age at 16, perhaps we must accept that initiating our children into the world of gambling before they are legally considered adults is probably not the wisest idea for their long-term fiscal security.
In order to address the issue of problem gambling head-on it is vital to first understand the drive behind the need to gamble. At the basest level it could be considered biological. The human quest for the next endorphin rush is highly compatible with the fast-paced world of gambling – particularly online gambling. We like adrenaline too and we need it to an extent – but not for everyone does that have to come from risking life and limb on the side of a mountain or perched on the somewhat precarious seat of a powerful motorbike. No – at any hour of the day or night, in between unloading the washing machine, bathing the kids, making dinner, unwinding as we lie in bed or for 15 minutes during lunch at the office – we can reach for a multitude of internet enabled devices and chase the thrill of winning a fiver; or losing a grand.
You see, gambling sneaks up on us with its friendly, bright smiling face, often celebrity endorsed. National treasure and footballing guru Harry Redknapp has recently fronted a campaign for a large casino brand and he wouldn’t encourage us to indulge in something that could ultimately lead us into ruin – would he? Gambling is often there for us when others are not. Stay at home mums struggling with the isolation and pressure of running a home and raising a family. Its comfortingly there at the end of a laptop – just login. People confined to indoors for long periods due to serious illness, in need of distraction and solace. It’s your understanding therapist just a few taps away on your mobile phone. Any person looking for escapism from the pressures of dealing with grief, loss, depression, stress, pain and numerous other issues will find it in gambling. Before you know it it’s the only one that’s there for you but boy is it expensive company. It may only cost you a few hundred pounds if you’re lucky, or worse, a few thousand pounds, but ultimately it could cost you your home, your family: everything. The terrifying thing is how quickly your new best friend can become your worst nightmare.
What is the solution then? As with so many questions the answer is education. We as a society must educate ourselves as to the dangers of gambling and how these can be best avoided. For some, gambling is a recreation that they engage in only occasionally, and it never becomes an issue in their lives; for others addiction is a very real danger even from their first experience of the activity. Working out which group you belong to in the first instance is the most beneficial step you can take if you feel that you are being negatively impacted by gambling. Organsiations such as GamCare provide information and diagnostics that can help you do this. It is vital to question yourself and to be honest in your answers. If you are spending more money than you can comfortably afford to lose whilst gambling; you have a problem. If you are missing social occasions, or worse still, skipping work, college or university so that you can gamble instead; you have a problem. If your relationships are breaking down or being adversely affected by gambling; you have a problem. Visit GamCare – take a test – you may be surprised at the result.
So, if the news is less than favourable – what can you do to protect yourself from sustaining losses that are detrimental to all aspects of your life? Rest assured you are not on your own – help and support are available. Luckily organisations such as the Gambling Commission are taking problem gambling seriously and to this end, they have taken steps to make online operators protect the most vulnerable of their customers. All UK licensed operators are now expected to provide a range of limiting options that customers can activate on their account. The Self-exclusion facility allows problem gamblers to restrict their access to a specific casino site for a specified period of time (from 6 months to 5 years) and if other casinos share the same license as this operator it should be extended to all casinos operating on this license. Beyond this there is the facility to exclude from UK casinos in bulk through the GamStop website. Players signup to the facility through the website and GamStop will ensure that their self-exclusion rolls over to all the UK licensed operators on their database – to date there are hardly any that are not on it.
Time outs are another feature that gambling operators must provide for vulnerable players. This feature allows players to take a break from playing that is not as intrusive as a self-exclusion. Players that are susceptible to losing control whilst under the influence of alcohol may perhaps find this feature more useful than the self-exclusion because it allows them control their gambling for the period of time they feel they are at risk. Perhaps 24 hours is enough to help them avoid gambling whilst consuming alcohol on a single night out – perhaps a week or a month is enough to allow a player to avoid gambling whilst on holiday where they may be more at risk than usual over a concentrated period of time. For players able to maintain control of their gambling during normal circumstances but not under extraordinary circumstances, a time out is perfect. The maximum period a time out can be placed for is 6 weeks – beyond this a self-exclusion period would better serve a player’s need.
Options to set limits on player accounts must also be provided under the terms of a Gambling Commission (UKGC) license. Players must be able to set deposit and loss limits in order to control their spending. The provision to set session time limits should also be in place so that players remain in control at all times. Reality check popups can also be activated by players that like to be reminded of how long they have been playing since it is easy to lose track of time when gambling and a prompt may be enough to help deter habitual patterns from forming.
External problem gambling aids are also available to players in the form of gambling website restriction software that is available to download on to any internet enabled device. Since those with problem gambling habits tend to have been financially damaged by them, the entirely free to use BetBlocker app is perfect. This app can be downloaded as many times as a user wishes, for as many internet capable devices as they possess, and it will not cost them a penny to do so – indeed it is the only free gambling software blocker currently available. BetBlocker has recently been granted UK charity status and despite the fact that the application has only recently been officially launched, it already has thousands of users, showing that there is a very real need for free services such as this to protect those most adversely affected by gambling. Currently, in the region of 7000+ gambling domains are excluded worldwide by BetBlocker and this number grows day-on-day.
For those problem gamblers that are still finding it impossible to control the compulsion to gamble there are organisations available to help support you through the process of regaining control. Gamblers Anonymous and GamCare do excellent work to help those that feel hopeless move forward positively. Problem gambling is most certainly an issue in today’s society and one that is only likely to grow with the continued rise of the internet, but I am hopeful that it is one that can be managed despite it being unlikely that it will be eradicated. Help is undoubtedly accessible for those that seek it.
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