“It very nearly ruined my life.” These are the words of a man from Belfast who used to be a problem gambler. He told the Belfast Newsletter about how what started out as a bit of fun soon became a compulsion, leading to significant debts, anxiety and secretive behaviour. “There’s no amount of money a compulsive gambler can win to make them happy;” he said. “There’s people who have lost homes, wives, everything and they just keep going. You’ll keep going until you have nothing more to lose.”
About a third of million people in the UK, are thought to be “problem gamblers”, and many more are spouses, children, colleagues and friends who are affected by the destructive financial, emotional and physical harms caused by this problem.
The rise of online gambling means there are vastly more opportunities for gambling – on smartphones and laptops, at home or away, and at all hours of the day or night. For problem gamblers, this can make it even more difficult to get control as temptation is all around.
Other new technologies are also exacerbating the problem. High speed, high stakes gambling machines have become a feature of high street betting shops over the past decade. Research indicates that about £11.4 billion has been lost on these machines since 2008, with problem gamblers losing about £15,000 each.
The consequences of problem gambling can be devastating: debt, family breakdown, unemployment, depression, and even suicide. The Government and the gambling industry needs to be proactive in protecting people from getting into harmful gambling behaviour. Some improvements have been made over the past few years, but there is more to be done.
Our newly published briefing paper contains more details about how to protect people from problem gambling and suggests questions you can ask your election candidates about this issue. A short summary is also available here.