Online gambling is a big problem, but since Covid hit and lockdowns were forced upon us, it has become an even bigger problem…
I have had gambling issues myself during my life and I am well aware of how and why this is a problem. It affects women as well as men (although not to the same degree) and despite improved regulation, it is something that is out there and hard to stop.
Since the pandemic began and going out became something we could only dream of doing, finding new forms of entertainment has been, for some people, been hard to do. But many have turned to online casinos or placing bets on a game on TV, simply just to have an interest in the outcome – and have something to do.
If you’re one of the lucky ones whose income has not been affected by the pandemic, then you could justifiably spend what you would on going out – say £200 a month – on gambling. If you’re strict with yourself, then in fairness, you are no worse off.
But what happens when that £200 has been spent? Do you stop or are you now so hooked that capping your spend is nigh on impossible? There are also people who simply do not have a disposable income and they are the most vulnerable, they are the ones who can ruin their lives and enter into escalating debt.
With new government legislation in place, bookmakers are now obliged to encourage gamblers to set limits, have time outs and gamble ‘responsibly’. If a bookmaker feels that due to spending patterns a gambler has a serious problem, they are obliged to suspend their account and share this information with the numerous other bookmakers that one may take our business to. But is it enough?
On the sports channels for example, viewers are inundated at every commercial break with gambling adverts. Despite the tagline reminder ‘when the fun stops, stop’, this bombardment of ads by the major bookies such as Paddy Power, Coral, Ladbrokes, William Hill, is hard to avoid. Numerous football teams are sponsored by betting companies. Sky Sports even have their own betting company Sky Bet, and the adverts are fronted by TV anchor Jeff Stelling, hence giving it added ‘credibility’.
In January 2020 the Daily Mail reported that gambling is estimated to be the cause of 500 suicides in the UK a year and official data showed that 430,000 people in the UK had gambling problems.
Then the pandemic hit and the closure of high street betting shops forced many people online and at a time when many have taken a pay cut or lost their jobs altogether.
What you find as a gambler is that ten pounds becomes a hundred and a hundred becomes a thousand and so on. You find yourself borrowing on credit cards and keeping the ‘problem’ to yourself, meaning that those close to you don’t have a clue until it is too late. Frustration leads to erratic behaviour and a desire to chase losses. Often denial creeps in and the constant feeling that you will eventually win never leaves.
There are therefore a growing number of vulnerable addicts. How can they be protected, without restricting those gamblers who are ‘in control’ or have the affordability to treat losses as entertainment expenditure?
The government is certainly aware of the magnitude of the problem, but whether or not there is much more they can do at present is debatable. What can be done is providing as much support and awareness as possible, so that both gamblers and their loved ones can see the warning signs and act upon them if necessary.