Gambling. The industry that believes cure is better than prevention.
Hi. My name is Daniel and I am a gambling addict.
It feels good to admit it. Cathartic even. It doesn’t make me feel virtuous though, that I am now able to control the impulses that once controlled me. It makes me feel dirty. The benefit of hindsight only allows me to see the actions of my younger self in a clearer, more horrifying light.
Chucking every last coin I had as a teenager into slot machines located in arcades, fish & chip shops and seedy hotel foyers.
Spending every single penny of my weekly wage on my one hour lunch break. Repeatedly. At least once a month, for five years.
Leaving the hospital on the day my daughter was born, and being unable to resist a detour via the bookies on my way home.
Gambling turned me into an awful, awful person.
I neglected family commitments to gamble. I ignored financial obligations and gambled the money instead. I sacrificed the three most important relationships I’ve had, solely due to gambling. I’ve built up debts equivalent to my yearly salary that I’m still struggling to pay off today. I was a filthy addict, no better than the stumbling, red-faced alcoholics or stick thin junkies you cross the street to avoid. And the worst part is you never would have guessed it to look at me.
I’ve held down decent jobs for all my adult life. I appeared happy and outwardly confident. I’m the guy you see playing with his kids at the park. The guy who makes small talk about the weather at the bus stop. The guy who doesn’t hesitate to give up his time to help those in need. But beneath all of that — I am a gambling addict. And there are millions like me, in every country worldwide.
The yearly expenditure for gambling exceeds the amount spent on books, music and film combined. It is a multi-billion dollar industry, and one which is growing rapidly. The rise of smartphone technology means you can gamble at any point during the day wherever you are provided you have an Internet-ready device and a wifi connection. The majority — and I hasten to say vast majority for reasons I’ll explain later- but the majority of people who gamble can do so in a controlled manner that causes no more harm than a bit less disposable income. Yet for 1–2% of those who gamble, it spirals into a all-consuming hell punctuated with bouts of depression, self-loathing and financial ruin.
The gambling industry as a whole like to promote responsible gambling. Or, to be more accurate, the gambling industry as a whole say they like to promote responsible gambling. In fact, the polar opposite is true. After all, gambling responsibly affects the gambling providers bottom line. If tomorrow all gamblers suddenly started only betting to stakes they could afford, within weeks bookmakers would be issuing profit warnings and casinos would be closing their doors.
Promoting responsible gambling is something providers have to be seen to be doing. It’s a crucial part of gaining a gambling license in the UK and I would imagine the same applies in most other Western countries. It is however, completely at odds with the behaviour these companies exhibit.
Please gamble responsibly…here’s a market to bet on whether the number of corners in a football match will be odd or even.
Please gamble responsibly…would you like another complimentary alcoholic drink while you play high-stakes blackjack?
Please gamble responsibly…deposit an extra $50 and receive $10 free!
Please gamble responsibly…did you know you can cancel the withdrawal you’ve made and have the money credited back into your account instantly?
If gambling responsibly was ever on the agenda then these things simply wouldn’t happen. The markets people could bet on would be limited to those they can reasonably be expected to predict. Casinos wouldn’t offer incentives for depositing more than you initially intended to. Withdrawals would be final and definite, in the same way deposits are. We allow casinos and bookmakers to make a big song and dance of promoting responsible gambling while simultaneously letting them act in the most irresponsible ways imaginable. This isn’t just wrong, it’s morally reprehensible. It’s profiting on those least likely to be able to say no.
When I finally decided to do something about my gambling addiction, eight years after acknowledging it and eighteen years after it began, it was already far too late to talk about gambling responsibly. I had legally been allowed to play category D machines (small stakes slots with a maximum £5 jackpot) at the age of nine. I was a full nine years away from being able to legally purchase alcohol, I was ID’d if I attempted to buy a film containing mild swearing yet, by law in the UK, I was allowed to gamble legally and sow the seeds of an addiction that would haunt me until my early thirties. This is still the state of play in the United Kingdom today. Kids can gamble, legally.
All of the controls in place for addicts to overcome their addictions are reactive; they only get mentioned once the gambler has already lost so much that they finally admit they need help. Self-exclusion, Gamblers Anonymous, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, counselling, blocking software — each and every one only comes into play after large sums of money have been lost, relationships are strained or broken and the gambler is in a pit of despair. All cure and no prevention.
If we as a society really do want to promote responsible gambling, there needs to be mechanisms in place for reaching people before they get to this stage.
I read a few alarming statistics that I’ve seen crop up so often I have to believe them to be true. Firstly, gambling addicts are more likely to attempt to self-harm than any other type of addict. Secondly, 80% of gambling addicts will contemplate suicide, and almost 20% will attempt to end their lives. By the most conservative estimates I can find, there are 400,000 gambling addicts in the UK — meaning 320,000 UK citizens are contemplating suicide and close to 80,000 will attempt it as a result of gambling addiction.
In truth, the number of gambling addicts is likely to be far greater by virtue of the fact that gambling is a very secretive addiction. It took me years to accept I had a gambling problem but I wouldn’t admit it for years after that. I wouldn’t tell my boss, or a date, or a family friend. I’d lie (problem gamblers are fantastic liars) and say I enjoyed it recreationally, but it wasn’t a problem. I had it under control. Everything was cool. I lied to everyone especially myself.
The British Gambling Prevalence Survey (2010) which monitors Britain’s gambling habits, concluded that only 1.5 percent of male gamblers and 0.3 percent of female gamblers qualify as problem gamblers - which is defined as “an urge to gamble continuously despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop.” Ask any casino staff member, or any cashier working for a bookmaker, whether they believe these figures to be correct and I can guarantee they won’t.
If you are in any doubt as to the severity of gambling addiction in the UK seek out any online forum for gambling addicts. Read the accounts of people who took out remortgages without their partners knowing until the house was about to be repossessed. Read about the woman who was so transfixed on the machine she was playing she pissed herself as she played. Read about the bloke who embezzled hundreds of thousands from his employer to fund his FOBT (Fixed Odds Betting Terminal) habit. There are hundreds of these forums and they each contain hundreds of stories of the abject misery and desperation that gambling addiction can cause. Google the words ‘gambling’ and ‘death’ and there are articles of lives ruined in the most tragic circumstances. They appear below adverts for online casinos.
Gambling raises a massive amount of tax in the UK and as a result the drive for Government to investigate the true societal cost of gambling addiction is minimal. It’s difficult for those who haven’t either suffered from or witnessed the true scale of gambling addiction to really appreciate the devastation it can cause, but this is an addiction that is affecting a huge number of people at an increasingly young age. We need to educate ourselves about the harm that gambling addiction can cause, and we need to educate the next generation before they are exposed to it. Not after they’ve started and most definitely not once they are thousands of pounds in debt.
Prevention is better than cure.