How a flutter can become a lethal addiction
Charities are reporting a big rise in calls from addicts, while bookies and casinos rake in bigger and bigger profits.
Saturday 19 March 2011
Casinos revealed bumper profits in their latest results while £500m was exopected to be wagered at horse racing's Cheltenham Festival this week. But the figures mean despair for hundreds of thousands of families. The number of people with a gambling addiction has increased by around a third during the recession. Meanwhile around 450,000 people termed "high-rollers" are losing eye-watering amounts of money, risking losing their homes and are often committing crimes to fund their habit.
Gamcare, a charity which provides free counselling for those with a gambling problem, now receives around 35,000 calls a month from those needing help, while the industry contributes just £5m per year to deal with the problem. That's less than a tenth of one per cent of the gross profits made from gambling in Britain over the same period.
Behind the scenes filibustering from bookies is preventing the problem from being dealt with effectively, while in terms of profits the industry has never done better. Last month Ladbrokes posted a 20 per cent increase in profits, while William Hill reported a 7 per cent hike in profits. In March, meanwhile, Betfair announced that revenue was up 6 per cent on the previous year.
According to the latest report from industry watchdog the Gambling Commission, nearly three-quarters of adults gambled in 2008, up from 68 per cent the previous year. Clearly the recession acts as a recruiting sergeant for many, including vulnerable members of the community chasing a dream of financial security.
There is now mounting pressure from charities and clinics for a "polluter pays" approach to dealing with the growing problem, which is being exacerbated by increasingly clever marketing and new ways of betting around the clock online including using mobile devices such as smart phones and tablet PCs.
Jim Fearnley, head of licencing and research at the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, allocates half of his £5m budget on recovery and detriment services. The rest is spent on education, harm prevention and research. "There are up to 450,000 people in Britain that we might term high rollers. They spend eye-wateringly large amounts of money in very short spaces of time," he says. "This small proportion of 0.9 per cent of the population spends a disproportionately large amount of money."
Problem gambling is defined by the Gambling Commission as "gambling to a degree that compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits". A survey published last year warned that it may have increased by more than a third since before the recession.
Two screening techniques are used to identify the problem. DSM-IV is a clinical test in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, and has diagnostic criteria including committing crime to fund the problem and a need to chase losses. The Problem Gambling Severity Index is used in larger-scale sociological contexts and has nine criteria, including gambling causing guilt or health problems.
The consultant psychiatrist Henrietta Bowden-Jones opened the first and still only NHS national problem gambling clinic in June 2008, and since then has had 700 referrals. Patients are at first given nine sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy, for which there is a 75 per cent success rate.
Bowden-Jones says that a fifth of gamblers with an addiction are using the internet. "The rest are going into traditional outlets such as bookmakers and casinos." She describes gambling addiction in similar terms to a narcotics addiction – an area she also specialises in: "Gambling addiction has recently been reclassified as a behavioural or hidden addiction from what was termed an impulse disorder, it has too many of the qualities of other forms of addiction."
Addicts will see an increase in the amounts of money they are gambling and the amount of time they are spending doing it, says Bowden-Jones. "It begins to affect occupational, recreational and family activities. They will break up with their partners and it is not uncommon for them to lose their homes to fund their gambling. Around half of the people we see will have committed some form of criminal activity to fund their addiction."
Addicts will usually lose far more than someone who is addicted to so-called hard drugs, and abusers are not confined to any one set of demographic criteria. But crimes will often be white collar: "It is fraud – fiddling the books at work rather than stealing razorblades from a supermarket. These are money-driven acquisitive acts designed to give them the cash they need to gamble," says Bowden-Jones.
Gary Pettengell, founder of Empowering Communities, runs the Count Me Out national gambling self-exclusion scheme, which he launched in 2007. It is a technique which has been in formal operation since 2009 and was updated earlier this month, where an addict commits to avoiding a particular gambling venue.
A licenced code of practice for the gambling industry requires gambling establishments to support this by having "procedures for self-exclusion and take all reasonable steps to refuse service or to otherwise prevent an individual who has entered a self-exclusion agreement from participating in gambling". Licencees must keep a register of those excluded, including names, photographs, addresses and other details.
"I first had the idea of introducing a co-ordinated national scheme in 2001," says Pettengell. "We are in no way anti-gambling. As a self-sustaining, not-for-profit social enterprise, we exist to help and empower victims, local communities, vulnerable people and their families." The organisation has gone from receiving a few calls a week relating to self-exclusion before the recession up to a few calls a day currently.
Meanwhile the industry claims it is doing all it can to help the self-excluded. Tessa Murray, a spokeswoman for the bookies Betfair, says that one of the advantages of online betting is that you have to deposit the money before you start: "We have put in place a wide variety of consumer processes and player protection tools to help people manage their betting." Self-exclusion procedures are in place, but she says identifying people who ought to self-exclude can be difficult: "You could spend £60 of benefits on online roulette and it would be a big deal, equally someone could spend thousands and it may not be."
Debt advice charities can give reformed gamblers the legal advice they need to deal with their debts once they have kicked the habit. Gambling debts after 1 September 2007 are legally enforceable, but those made before are not – following section 334 of the Gambling Act 2005 which says that gambling contracts must be treated in a the same way to other contracts in law. Debts and a gambling problem will feed off each other as the addict chases his or her losses further down.
"Research has found that gambling-related debt problems are likely to have more severe impacts on the health and well-being of individuals and families than managing either problem gambling or problem debt on their own," says Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, which runs the National Debtline.
Charitable donations are welcomed by all the gambling addiction and debt advice organisations affiliated with the industry. But it remains to be seen whether public pressure over a growing and serious issue will cause the bookmakers and casinos to respond to those who say that contributing less than a tenth of one per cent of gross profits to the problem amounts to shirking a social responsibility towards the most vulnerable.
The gambler's tale
Jon Wright, a 31-year-old customer service adviser from Hull, contacted Empowering Communities seven months ago and has now been clean for six. "It started with the book makers, small bets, and then got more serious with internet betting." Jon said the allure of internet gambling was that he could do it after hours while the lack of social cues from other punters and the fact that no physical money is handed over meant he lost increasing amounts of cash. "Sports betting moved on to roulette and I would lose thousands of pounds in a single session." On one occasion, Jon lost £7,000 in about three hours using William Hill Online. "The problem with self-exclusion is there are always ways to get around it – you can sign up under a new name with a different credit card."
Questions of Cash: Bupa costs bore no relation to what I'd been quoted
Five Questions On: Pensions advice
Problem gambling: Amid heavy advertising and a surge in remote sports betting, more and more 16 to 24-year-olds are now seen as 'at risk'
Simon Read: Retirement advice is good - if it's impartial
The HiFX guide to managing corporate foreign exchange and international payments
- 1 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 2 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 3 Exclusive: Cameron’s Big Society in tatters as charity watchdog launches investigation into claims of Government funding misuse
- 4 Satellite full of sexually experimental geckos adrift in space, Russia loses control of mission
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains
John Barrowman praised for Commonwealth Games opening ceremony gay kiss
iJobs Money & Business
£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...
£280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...
Day In a Page
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony
A charming four-bedroom Oxfordshire cottage with oak floors and chunky-beamed ceilings, £465,000
A beautiful one-bed flat in a sought-after portered block, with access to Norland Square communal gardens
A one-bedroom flat within a Sixties school conversion with high-spec design and open-plan kitchen, close to Lambeth North Tube, £435,000
A 17th century four-bedroom house, with open fireplaces, cellar and pool, £600,000
A three-bedroom, coach house with luxury open-plan living space and contemporary breakfast bar