I have worked for many years now counselling problem gamblers and the people around them also affected by their addiction. It has been really good in recent years to see the media highlighting problem gambling topics. It’s an issue we are incredibly passionate about knowing, first-hand, the profound and often devastating impact problematic gambling has on the gambler and the people in their everyday life. The ripple effect of one person’s problematic gambling can go a very long way. The worrying incline of online gambling is only going to compound that.
In the news…
In the early days I used to wonder why problem gambling never made the headlines in the same way that other social issues did. Then stories slowly started to appear. I remember feeling gratified and hopeful at the time. Once in the media focus, change can start to happen as people’s awareness grows and organisations become accountable. Now however, I am more concerned as to why the main focus often remains to be on the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. Aka FOBT’s aka roulette machines aka “the crack cocaine of gambling addiction” in the bookmakers shops. I wonder why there is less focus on the very worrying incline of online gambling which has often devastating consequences for problematic gamblers.
Historically there has been much media criticism towards the government that allowed the increase of these machines into the shops. Or the huge wages that CEO’s of the gambling world pay themselves or bookies springing up everywhere in the advent of pub closures. Some focus on the delays to get the government’s promised £2 pound per play limit in place and so it goes on. Very often most media roads come back to the FOBT’s in some way.
These types of stories are absolutely valid. We’re all for anything that positively raises public awareness of the growing endemic problem gambling is posing throughout the UK. However the scope of the issue is vast and we want to build on getting more relevant stories out there.
So without further ado, there is an emerging change in trend which could prove to be a much bigger problem than those already well documented. The new forerunner is the world of online gambling. Often an after inclusion in big media headlines today, it is hugely on the increase and the impacts of this are massive across the board.
Where’s the evidence?
Gamcare research statistics show that online gambling has been steadily on the increase over the past few years. It jumped a massive 5% to 55% last year. In comparison offline gamblers decreased by 5% to 45% making the ratio between a whopping 10%. They were neck and neck the year previously and in the two years prior more people were gambling offline than on.
What are the concerns?
In my opinion online gambling is actually a much more dangerous beast. Firstly, and I want to put this in now so we don’t end this focusing on the FOBT’s! You can play the same sort of high stake rapid play games online as you can on the terminals in the bookmakers shops. However, whatever online gamblers are gambling on, they are far more removed from the reality of how much they are spending. They don’t physically see or touch the money they are parting with, they just see numbers on a screen. As such this their spend can mount up alarmingly quickly. Because of this, very frequently a gambler won’t realise how much they have spent until it’s way too late.
The odds are stacked against the problem gambler
Most online companies whilst able to receive funds immediately from customers take several days to process payments to their customers. Furthermore, anytime during the pending payment to their bank accounts, customers can use the payment money pending to bet with. As such more often than not, problematic gamblers will lose all the money that would have gone into their bank account. This would be less likely to happen if they received their payment as immediately as the gambling provider does. When gambling in a bookmakers the customer can walk out of a shop with their winnings on the spot, immediately.
Disturbingly, many online companies allow users to gamble using their mobile phone bill and actually advertise this option! Seriously!! If someone using their mobile telephone bill to fund gambling isn’t an indication that they are gambling more than they can afford to lose, then I don’t know what is. These gambling providers are supposed to have a social responsibility to protect people they believe may be developing gambling addiction.
Another incredibly important factor is that whilst most offline gambling establishments have open and closed times. Online is ALWAYS open, there and available no need to travel to go and place a bet. If you have access to a smartphone or a tablet you can do that literally ANYTIME and ANYWHERE. Subsequently more and more people can place bets whilst working or through the night whilst there family are sleeping. Partly because of this the problem often remains hidden. I can’t tell you how many times people have shared with me that they waited up for their monthly pay to go into their bank account then subsequently blew their month’s wages gambling online. All gone, before the start of work the next day in a matter of hours. This is tragically sad and devastating for that person and their families.
The next generation.
In terms of children and problematic gambling, again, online gambling is a big concern. It is harder to monitor online whether someone gambling is actually of age or not. There are also increasing links about gaming and problematic gambling in children.
I could go on and on because for me, without doubt the worrying incline of online gambling is a real emerging crisis. It’s a minefield which we really need to put a spotlight on now. In doing so we can start to highlight and grow more understanding about the far reaching issues, impacts and implications. As a result, we can then put more robust systems in place to protect those who are vulnerable.
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