Problem gambling is a growing concern both in the UK and worldwide. It affects people from all walks of life through many different forms of betting and gambling, and it can show itself very differently from person to person. With the rise in online gambling, gambling addictions have changed and shifted to include the new market and the increased access to gambling that it provides.
To really understand “problem gambling”, it is important to consider what it is, how players and gambling providers can work together to reduce the risks, and what to do if you think you may have a gambling addiction.
What is problem gambling?
Problem gambling might also be called compulsive gambling or gambling addiction, and in simple terms, it is when gambling goes from a fun pastime to a potentially dangerous habit that is difficult to break. If you are spending more time or money than you can afford, you may have a gambling addiction. It often shows itself through unhealthy gambling habits like chasing losses, becoming deceitful about your gambling, or causing/letting harm occur in order to keep gambling.
How does problem gambling happen?
No one is quite sure exactly what causes a gambling addiction to develop. Recently, researchers have begun to compare gambling addiction with substance addictions like alcohol and nicotine, as they are seeing more and more similarities in the way gambling and substance addictions work. Although the causes of gambling addiction are not clear, there are steps you can take to minimise your risks of falling victim to it.
Who does gambling addiction affect?
There is no one group of people that gambling addiction doesn’t affect. Male and female, young and old; anyone could develop a problem with gambling. People with every financial and employment status can be affected, any ethnicity, religion, and location. Many people have a stereotypical view of “what a problem gambler looks like”, and if they don’t fit that image, they are less likely to acknowledge a gambling problem if one develops.
How can I recognise a gambling problem?
You might begin to notice a gambling problem in yourself, or perhaps you’re concerned for a friend or family member. Many behaviours can indicate that a gambling addiction might be developing or might already exist.
Chasing losses is very common; this is when a player keeps gambling in an attempt to win back what they have lost. Almost every time, this results in them losing more and more money, and the player’s total balance creeping down, not back up.
Losing more than you can afford can signify a developing gambling problem; if losing what you bet means that you’re going to struggle or have some kind of financial difficulty, you shouldn’t be betting it. This is often seen when players bet money meant for rent, bills, or other necessities.
Feeling unhappy, panicked, depressed or angry during or after gambling suggests an unhealthy situation. Gambling is supposed to be an enjoyable pastime, and if you come out of it feeling miserable or stressed, the enjoyment has been lost and it has started becoming a problem. The source of these feelings is usually not that the player lost, but that the player could not afford to lose the money they just bet.
Going out of your way to continue or justify gambling is one of the signs that is often missed. We humans are very capable of convincing ourselves, especially if we want to believe something. Many players with gambling addictions will try to justify their gambling, saying things like, “if I win, it’ll pay for X”, or “it’s only X amount, it’s not that bad”, or “the bookies’ is on my way home anyway”. These kinds of thoughts are what makes addiction hard to beat, because the brain phrases risky behaviours as logical and sensible, which they are not.
Letting harm occur in order to keep gambling is one of the most dangerous aspects of problem gambling. This could include spending money meant for bills, selling possessions, or even stealing in order to fund a gambling habit.
Many people who struggle with a gambling addiction often feel ashamed, and may lie or deceive friends and loved ones in an attempt to hide their problem. Seeing these kinds of behaviours may indicate that someone you know is suffering with a gambling addiction.
How does problem gambling affect people?
It is important to remember that any kind of addiction doesn’t just affect the afflicted person, but those around them too. Someone struggling with problem gambling may feel stressed and unhappy, and may suffer from depression and anxiety. It can put strain on personal relationships, affect work life, and can cause people to fall into debt. These negative feelings of stress, unhappiness, and loneliness can often cause a vicious cycle, where people turn to gambling to try to make themselves feel better. That is why recognising and seeking help for problem gambling is so important; only by breaking this cycle can these feelings be beaten.
Gambling addiction is a heavy topic, and it’s serious when it happens. Luckily, there are laws in the UK designed to protect players and their rights, and often these reduce the risk of gambling becoming dangerous. These laws are improving and tightening all the time, and there are many things that gambling companies must do in order to comply with UK law and keep players safe.
Prevent underage gambling
Children and teenagers are considered high risk when it comes to problem gambling. As a result, it is illegal to gamble under the age of 18, with a few exceptions. Gambling providers must prove they are working hard to protect minors from gambling. For online gambling sites, this will include age-verifying all players signing up to a site, and making sure they don’t advertise anywhere that under-18s are likely to see it. They must also not show content on their sites that might appeal particularly to children, until the player is age-verified.
To find out more about how sites work to age-verify players, read about what happens when sites ask you for documentation, and how to provide it.
Market ethically and responsibly
As well as not advertising to minors, gambling companies must adhere to strict guidelines when marketing their sites and products. They must not advertise to any players who have self-excluded, and since May 2018, they must provide and respect proper marketing opt-in/out choices. Terms and conditions must be made clear and visible, and any TV or radio adverts must not mislead people about the fact that gambling includes risk and chance. Not sticking to the guidelines provided by agencies like CAP and the ASA will see gambling companies slapped with a warning or even a hefty fine.
Conduct business in a fair and open way
Gambling companies must be honest about the risk involved with gambling. In order to be compliant, companies display the RTP (return to player) of their games; this shows what percentage of their money the average player will get back playing that game. Sites must display information and links about problem gambling, including how to recognise it and what players can do if they are concerned. Sites must also allow players to opt out of marketing, close their account, or self-exclude without hindering or misleading them.
Work to prevent self-excluded and at-risk players gambling
Gambling sites must be able to prove that they are making serious efforts to stop self-excluded players signing up to their services. This might be by having a database of self-excluded players and blocking/closing any accounts that match these details. Sites are now starting to link with GAMSTOP which helps them spot any self-excluded players’ details.
Some players may not have self-excluded but might be at risk of problem gambling. Doing due diligence checks on players’ income and spending can reduce the risk of them overspending and falling into debt. A lot of players react negatively to sites asking for these details, feeling that it is an invasion of their privacy. This is perfectly understandable, but the reason sites ask is in order to protect and help vulnerable players who could end up in trouble. Even if you are not at risk and see the checks as an inconvenience, they could be saving someone else an awful lot of heartache and trouble.
Whilst it is critical that sites do their best to stop self-excluded players accessing them to gamble, it is important to recognise that these sites and systems are not infallible. Players attempting to deliberately get around or deceive these systems have to take some responsibility for this also. Protecting vulnerable players is a difficult but very important task, and it will only be possible when providers and players cooperate and work together.
Train staff to recognise and report signs of problem gambling
Giving all customer-facing staff training about the signs of gambling addiction will mean that those with problems will be spotted much sooner. This might include chat hosts, customer support advisors, and managers (including VIP managers). If staff can recognise signs of problem gambling, players can be stopped from betting sooner rather than later.
Provide adequate tools for players
Players who wish to protect themselves and avoid a gambling problem must be able to do so through a site. This includes the option to self-exclude (and have this upheld), and many sites also offer tools like “take a break” and “reality check”. Sites can currently choose to sign up to GAMSTOP, a UK database of self-excluded players that operates cross-platform, however in the future this will likely become mandatory.
Make contributions to the research and treatment of problem gambling
BeGambleAware requires operators to support and provide contributions to fighting problem gambling. This includes research on the causes and treatment of gambling addiction, education for young people and adults on gambling responsibly, and funding treatment and support for those fighting an addiction.
Prevention is always better than cure, and the same goes for addiction. While companies and gambling providers must do a great deal to combat problem gambling and protect players, there are lots of things you can do yourself to ensure that you are gambling responsibly and safely.
Gambling is supposed to be a fun pastime. It is not a get-rich-quick scheme, or a way to make money, and thinking that it is could land you in hot water. When you gamble, think of it like this- you are buying the experience, and if you have a win, that’s just a bonus. When you bet on a race or a bingo game, you are paying for the fun of participating and the excitement of the event. You may or may not win, but to gamble responsibly, it is important to remember that that money may be lost. If you don’t win, will you still be okay with what you spent? If the answer is no, you should consider revaluating your gambling spend.
Separate money for playing with
Many people have a separate bank account or pot for their “gambling money”. This allows them to carefully budget what they are happy to spend and possibly lose, without the temptation of “just a bit more”. By separating their money, players are more likely to stick to budget and less likely to dip into crucial funds like rent or bills money, which should never happen.
Set a time limit or reality check
Almost all gambling sites now offer these tools to players. You can limit the time you play on a site through your account, and when the time is up, the site will stop you playing until the next day. A reality check will pop up as often as you set it to, reminding you to take a break and step away from your device. This is very helpful for snapping you out of the gambling “headspace” and bringing you back to reality.
Set a deposit limit
Many sites will let you limit how much you can deposit each day, week, or month. This might be that you limit the amount of money you can deposit, or it may be the number of times you can deposit. Either way, having a sensible limit placed on your account is good sense, and it’s also a helpful safeguard in case your account is ever fraudulently accessed by someone else.
Don’t chase losses
A big part of gambling is understanding that often, people lose. If you’ve had a fun time, and you’ve set a healthy limit on your spend that you know you can afford, it’s much easier to walk away and call it a day. But if players start to lose more than they can afford, sometimes it can be tempting to try to win that money back, and this often leads to them gambling- and losing- even more. Chasing losses is never a good idea; decide a healthy limit before you start gambling, while your mind is clear, and if necessary, put tools in place to be sure you stick to it.
Don’t use gambling to “cheer up” or “relax”
Gambling is supposed to be fun and enjoyable, but if you’re using it to get rid of a bad mood, you’re not in the right mindset to be betting money. Gambling when depressed or under stress affects your decision-making and rationale, and makes overspending or a gambling problem much more likely. Feeling blue? Step away from the slots and take a bath, go for a walk, call a friend. If you’re not in the right mindset to gamble and take risks, then don’t.
Don’t gamble under the influence
Clear thinking, rationale, and good decision making are all crucial when choosing to gamble. Mixing alcohol or drugs with gambling is a recipe for regret. Your judgement and sense will be impaired, and gambling under the influence can make you more likely to take silly risks.
Gambling addiction is taken seriously nowadays, and you will be too. Seeking help for a gambling problem can feel scary, but few things are scarier than feeling out of control. Getting help and starting on the road to recovery can help get that control back, and there are lots of agencies and organisations on hand to provide advice and support.
Acknowledge the problem
The first step to tackling an addiction is acknowledging that there is a problem. If someone you care about is struggling with a gambling problem, you can help them reach this first step, but ultimately, it is something that people must come to themselves. Acknowledging that you need help may be hard, but it can feel like a huge relief.
Take a break
If you just want a little time to cool off, rather than a full self-exclusion, you can opt to take a break from a gambling site. This will block your account temporarily, and you can select how long you want it to last. This tool is very helpful for people who are tempted to chase losses, who get overexcited and reckless after a win, or always end up reversing withdrawals in order to keep spending.
If you worry you are developing a gambling addiction, you may wish to self-exclude. This means blocking your account (and any other accounts with the same details) on a network (like 888 or Jumpman for example). Some sites will allow you to block your accounts across several networks if they are signed up to GAMSTOP.
Once you request a self-exclusion, it cannot be lifted for any reason until the time limit has passed. The time limit can be set as anything from six months to permanent forever, depending on what you request. This is to stop those with severe addictions giving in to temptation and asking for the ban lifted early.
Self-exclusion is used a lot and is nothing to be ashamed about. It’s not reserved for those with a “serious” problem- anyone can request it if they choose. You can often do this yourself through your account on a site, or you can speak to live chat support, or email in to request self-exclusion. Be clear that you are asking to self-exclude, not just close the account. It will be done very quickly for you.
Talk about it
People often say “a problem shared is a problem halved”, and if that’s true for you, talking to someone may help with seeking help and recovering from a gambling problem. Some people might prefer to talk privately to friends or family, but others may feel more comfortable speaking to an impartial professional like a GP or a counsellor in confidentiality. Gambling addiction is different for everyone, and the more you talk, the more you’ll understand how it is for you. You might even find others like yourself and feel comforted or inspired hearing about their journeys to recovery.
A counsellor is someone who can listen without judgement, and who is trained to help you in the best possible way. What you tell them is confidential (except in serious cases where you may be at serious risk of harm), and they will understand how you feel. You don’t have to go sit on a sofa and talk about your feelings; many counsellors work through online chat, and there are groups online and in person where you can meet others like you. Addiction can be lonely, and groups like Gamblers Anonymous can really be a comfort and help people stay “on the wagon”.
Gambling should be enjoyable, but sometimes people can find themselves becoming addicted or spending too much. If that happens, it’s important to seek help and surround yourself with positive tools to ensure that you are gambling responsibly, if at all. Gambling companies are obligated by law to protect players and provide help and support regarding problem gambling, however it also comes down to the individual to take steps to protect themselves.
When done safely and responsibly, gambling should be a fun experience, and the more education there is surrounding responsible gambling, the sooner this can be the case for all players.
There are a tonne of resources surrounding responsible gambling for everyone including players, friends and family, professionals, and those worried about a gambling problem. Below are listed a variety of organisations and schemes that can provide more information on responsible gambling.
This is a new scheme in the UK, and soon, all gambling sites will be required to join it. It is a multi-network exclusion database, which means that when a player self-excludes, they will be excluded across all networks in the database. This helps protect self-excluded players from just going to a different site to bet.
BeGambleAware.org.uk has a calculator that allows you to work out how much you spend on gambling. It can be helpful to see those numbers added up in order to budget properly.
Gambling Block Software
Download one of these software programs, and you can set it to block gambling sites on your device. It will also reduce and/or block gambling ads you are likely to see online.
See if your gambling habits are responsible with an online self-assessment test. BeGambleAware has one on their site.
This site has a huge bank of resources and information, as well as tools and links to other organisations.
Website providing advice and support via phone, online chat, or text message. They also offer counselling online or in person.
National Gambling Helpline
Phone service offering confidential support, advice, and information.
0808 8020 133
NHS National Problem Gambling Clinic
Confidential NHS service specialising in gambling addiction treatment and support.
020 7381 7722
Group support and meeting sessions found locally nationwide.
Confidential and free UK service providing money advice and financial information.
0808 808 4000