Supercasinos: When a sure bet is despair
Amid all the hype surrounding the supercasino, one counselling charity reveals the plight of gamblers who play Russian roulette with their finances
Sunday 04 February 2007
"I have a really bad gambling problem," says the anxious caller, who sounds no older than 25. "I just got my wages this morning but lost it all on the computer in a matter of hours. I started with small bets but then I was losing, so I upped the stakes. I have some tablets here and don't know whether to take them."
Minutes later, the phone goes again. This time it is a distressed mother ringing with concerns about her 40-year-old son.
"He's a compulsive gambler but won't accept he's got a problem," she says. "He has a daughter of three and another one on the way and yet he's blowing £2,000 a month on online gambling. His partner doesn't know the half of it - and it's me who's bailing him out by paying his mortgage."
This kind of call is a very familiar one to the counsellors who work on the helplines at GamCare, the national charity for problem gamblers.
While many of us like to have a flutter from time to time, and can enjoy it without becoming addicted, a growing number suffer through dependency and loss of control. For these people, gambling takes over their lives and dominates their thoughts. They cannot stop until they have run out of money - even if this means losing relationships, friends, possessions and jobs along the way.
GamCare figures suggest there are around 300,000 problem gamblers in the UK, but that number is based on statistics from 1999 and is widely believed to have grown, especially in the wake of the explosion in gambling websites, open for business 24 hours a day.
And now there are fears that last week's unveiling of Manchester as the site of Britain's first supercasino will further inflame these figures.
Some of the individuals who call the charity's helpline have debts running into five or six figures. Others are bankrupt and, at worse, have attempted suicide because they see no way back.
GamCare works to promote responsible attitudes towards gambling, and address the needs of those affected by dependency.
The helpline is at the hub of GamCare's support and care services and is often the first point of contact. It is confidential and available 24 hours a day, although calls will go through to an answering service between midnight and 8am.
The helpline is staffed by highly experienced counsellors such as Kate - not her real name - whose role it is to encourage the caller to talk openly about his or her concerns.
"When someone calls the helpline it can be quite emotional, as it may have taken them weeks to pluck up the courage to do so," she says. "It's important we give the caller the opportunity to talk; you have to encourage people by telling them they have taken the first step."
During the initial call, the counsellor will suggest a range of options. Individuals can choose to receive free information, advice, support or counselling through the charity's national help-line, or they can opt for face-to-face counselling on a one-to-one basis, or through a weekly group session.
The aim is to help stop problem gambling, or at least help people gamble less, and to devise coping strategies. There is an emphasis on developing emotional and practical skills to prevent relapses.
Dealing with gambling is about breaking the dependency and looking at the underlying causes, says Adrian Scarfe, head of clinical services at GamCare.
"We look at the triggers and what got people into gambling in the first place," he explains. "Like other addictions, clients might be using it as an escape or for the adrenalin rush - the idea of chancing everything and chasing that high. Gambling is also competitive: gamblers know the casino has the house edge, but they still want to beat the system."
The duration of counselling can vary from six weeks to a year or more. "Some people start off by saying they want to stop completely, but others are reluctant to let go," adds Mr Scarfe. "People use gambling as a way of coping. If you take away the gambling, you take away the coping mechanism. It takes huge courage to let go."
Further to all this, GamCare offers support for dependants and family members, who can call the help-line or attend counselling themselves.
GamCare started in 1997 as a campaigning charity - working to raise awareness of problem gambling - and has developed to provide treatment, prevention and education. Alongside its phone line and face-to-face counselling services, it has an internet forum and chatroom. Launched in August 2005, this gives people the chance to ask questions and share advice. There are now plans to launch an online one-to-one counselling service later this year.
All this, of course, requires money. Mr Scarfe admits the charity's funding has been "up and down", but says there is now more stability as GamCare applies for its funding from the Responsibility in Gambling Trust (RIGT), an organisation that collects money from the gaming industry to pay for research, education and treatment of problem gamblers.
GamCare maintains a dialogue with all those involved in the gambling sector, including regulators and the Government. "We achieve more by working with the industry," says Teresa Tunstall, the charity's head of development and training.
This will be especially important when the 2005 Gambling Act comes into force in September, making "social responsibility" a condition of gaining a licence for all forms of regulated gambling in the UK.
GamCare is firm in its belief that gambling should not be prohibited - provided it is legal and operated responsibly - as otherwise it will go underground.
"We share the widely held view that it has become a mainstream leisure activity," says Ms Tunstall.
However, GamCare is working to train staff in the industry in how to spot potential problems and deal with them. "If operators know the signs, they can react by offering help and support," she adds. Posters and leaflets for the charity can already be found in casinos, betting offices and other gambling premises, and from September this will become compulsory.
Since its care services were launched in 1997, GamCare has witnessed some major changes - including the rise of new technology and remote gambling, giving people the chance to bet 24 hours a day in an environment where it is easy to lose track of time - and the value of money.
It has also seen a change in the risk profile, with more women now gambling.
"In the past, women have tended to play fruit machines or bingo," says Mr Scarfe. "Women tend to be escape gamblers rather than competitive gamblers. But online gambling is growing increasingly popular as women can gamble from the safety of their own homes - in an environment that is hypnotic and calm."
GamCare now runs a group counselling programme specifically for women but says they remain under-represented.
"There is still this notion of shame attached to women gamblers. They feel they are judged, so don't face up to it and seek help."
Against the odds...
GamCare logged 22,600 calls in 2005 - up 3.7 per cent from 2004.
The charity reports only a slight increase in the percentage of female problem gamblers - up from 11 to 13 per cent in 2005.
At 35.5 per cent of the total activities reported, placing bets was the dominant form of gambling in 2005; this means gambling on the outcome of mainly sporting events, be it in a high-street bookmakers or via websites such as BetFair. The next most popular activities were fruit machines (25.8 per cent) and the "fixed odds" betting terminals found in pubs and clubs that let you play roulette and the like (21.4 per cent).
Some 55 per cent of GamCare's clients have stopped gambling after counselling, and a further 21 per cent have been able to manage their gambling effectively.
For more information go to www.gamcare.org.uk; you can call the helpline on 0845 600 0133
Investors told to travel the world in the search for higher returns
The most expensive cities in the world 2015
Pension freedoms: How to deal with cold calls from scammers
Is there a connection between luxury student accommodation and high levels of debt?
Starter home initiative is urgently needed as rents go through the roof
- 1 Video of Irish 'professional boxer' fighting Istanbul neighbourhood goes viral in Turkey
- 3 A pint of water every day is the key to losing weight, scientists say
- 4 Russia 'accidentally reveals' number of its soldiers killed in eastern Ukraine
- 5 Carol Vorderman reveals she is 'covered in burns' after she fell off her treadmill while running naked
Dresden riots: Protesters in Germany attack refugee buses shouting 'foreigners out'
France train shooting: US soldiers speak of the moment they stopped gunman and 'beat him until he was unconscious'
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs
iJobs Money & Business
£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Are you passionate about sale...
£25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A large financial services company...
£20400 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and highly reputable organisat...
Day In a Page
This four-bedroom home has an annexe accessed from the side of the house, with potential for improvement and conversion subject to the necessary permissions.
In the heart of the hamlet of Wardley, this five-bedroom period home offers countryside views and a stylish interior, with original features and open fireplaces.
Offering countryside views and landscaped gardens, this three-bedroom Grade II-listed lodge has a spacious conservatory and a large cellar that could serve as a workshop.
Set in approximately 1.5 acres, this four-bedroom home comes with a second, detached property that's currently used as an annexe.
In the hamlet of Newchurch, this former parish church is now a four-bedroom home complete with clock tower and eyrie.
Offering scenic views from a large balcony and sun terrace, this four-bedroom home has a wraparound garden and a heated swimming pool.
Offering views across the Humber and East Yorkshire Wolds from a glass panelled balcony, this four-bedroom barn-style home befits a life of leisure.
This four-bedroom home offers versatile accommodation with annexe potential; features include a hot tub, sauna and Norwegian BBQ hut.
Well-located for schools, colleges and the town centre, this contemporary thatched cottage offers flexible living space with six bedrooms.
Built in 1907, this four-bedroom Edwardian period home has been refurbished by the current owners, retaining many original period features.
Surrounded by landscaped gardens, this five-bedroom home offers living space across three floors.
This lovely country home in Burnham Market is currently run as a popular holiday cottage, with five en suite bedrooms and colourful gardens.
This three-bedroom 17th-century former village bakery is just a few miles from the East Sussex coast.
Set on a landscaped plot, this light and airy four-bedroom home comes with a log burner in the lounge, a fitted kitchen and an open-plan ground-floor layout.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Built on a former chapel site, this impressive four-bedroom home boasts balconies, stunning views and contemporary modern living.
This three-bedroom house is situated in a quiet mews and set over three floors. Features include glazed staircases and high ceilings.
A period townhouse set over four floors, this five-bedroom home was built in the 18th Century and retains many original features.
With five bedrooms, this spacious home offers beautiful gardens and modern interiors - set within the popular market town of Bingley.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
In the pretty market town of Bungay, this grade II-listed Mill House is arranged over four floors, offering four bedrooms and three reception areas.
This first-floor flat comes with two bedrooms, an impressive open-plan reception room and two lovely roof terraces.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Moored at Taggs Island and reached via a pretty garden, this two-bedroom houseboat has a vaulted reception room and skylit garden studio - currently a beauty salon.
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
A contemporary house spread over three storeys, this three-bedroom detached home has large sliding doors that open out to the River Quaggy.
Moored in Chelsea's Cheyne Walk, this houseboat offers two double bedrooms and a teak deck that's ideal for al-fresco dining.
This former village bakery, dating back to the 17th century, is now a three-bedroom detached home just a few miles from the East Sussex coast.
On the picturesque Isle of Man, this four-bedroom character home has a ground-floor shop that's currently run as a newsagents and a flat that would make an ideal holiday let.
In a new collection of flats, this first-floor two-bedroom apartment offers ample entertaining space and a prime view of Furze Green from a private balcony.
This three-bedroom stone-built cottage currently trades as the village store with a restaurant in the annexe and family accommodation on the upper floors.
Previously two semi-detached properties, this five-bedroom home is spread over three floors with a large breakfast kitchen, orangery, office and gym on the second floor.
This five-bedroom home enjoys countryside views over the Blyth estuary to Southwold, offering flexible living space with a ground-floor annexe - ideal for use as a holiday let.
Close to the market town of Eye, this four-bedroom detached home offers a double-height living room which takes the place of the original, 19th-century, chapel nave.
Dating back to the 19th century, this four-bedroom home needs modernising. Spanning three storeys, the red-brick house has a fireplace, a small terrace and a cellar.
Just outside of Cambridge, this single-storey home offers three double bedrooms, a living room with vaulted timber ceiling and ladder steps that lead to a mezzanine study area.
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn.
A former coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, an attached office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Located beside an impressive Victorian viaduct, this four-bedroom home has an open-plan living area that is glazed on two sides, with skylights and high ceilings.
A former furniture workshop, this three-bedroom home has high ceilings and painted brick walls, in a village setting only fifteen miles from the coast.
This five-bedroom stone townhouse features a pine staircase and an Inglenuk fireplace, double doors from the lounge give access to an enclosed courtyard.
This five-bedroom, detached home blends traditional and modern design; the sleek kitchen features a gas hob and oven set within an exposed chimney breast.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B or countryside retreat, subject to change of use permissions.
This Grade II-listed three-bedroom home is situated on a private road, just a short walk from the sandy beaches of Frinton-on-Sea.
Less than five miles from Malmesbury, this four-bedroom cottage comes with equestrian facilities and gardens that extend to approximately three acres.
Spanning three storeys, this late-Victorian five-bedroom farmhouse is a spacious family home with a modern interior and B&B potential.
With an original church arch, this triplex one-bedroom church conversion has a light, spacious, feel and comes with a secure off-street parking space.
This recently-refurbished three-bedroom home has bi-folding doors that lead out to a decked seating area - ideal for alfresco dining this summer.