According to the UK Gambling Commission, 44 per cent of the adult population in Great Britain have participated in some form of gambling activity in the past 12 months.
For most players, gambling never becomes anything more than a hobby. However, gambling can be addictive.
In 2022, around 1,400 people were referred to NHS England for help with gambling addiction, which was up by a third on the previous year.
When gambling becomes more than a pastime and begins creating problems in someone's life, they may be showing signs of gambling addiction.
In the following guide to responsible gambling, we detail how to bet responsibly, ways to stay safe, how to recognise a gambling problem, as well as providing gambling resources if you feel your betting habits have become, or are becoming, an issue.
How to Gamble Responsibly
1. Treat gambling as a source of entertainment rather than a source of income
Gambling should primarily be viewed as a form of entertainment, not a reliable income stream. The reality is that only a select few succeed as professional gamblers and, so recreational gamblers should not expect to enjoy sustained success either. Hence, it's crucial to approach gambling with a mindset of fun rather than financial gain.
2. Never bet outside of your means
It's vital to bet within your financial comfort zone, using only funds designated for leisure and steering clear of essential finances meant for rent, bills, or other necessities.
3. Bet 1% of your budget at a time
Betting a mere 1 per cent of your betting budget at a time involves setting aside a specific gambling budget for a period of time and adjusting stakes based on your success or setbacks.
4. Set a money limit in advance
Setting a spending limit before engaging in activities like playing online casinos or even betting on the races is a key move. The goal is to enjoy the thrill of potential profits while not exceeding your predetermined budget, regardless of the day's outcomes.
5. Never chase your losses
Chasing losses is a common pitfall in gambling. It often leads to rash decisions and increased losses. It's important to step back after a loss, reassess, and return with a clear mindset.
6. Try to take regular breaks between gambling
If you lose, walk away, assess what went wrong, regroup and only return if you have a clear head. Continuous gambling can skew perspective, making breaks essential.
7. Do not gamble when drunk, depressed, angry or upset
Impaired judgment, often a result of gambling under the influence of alcohol or while experiencing strong emotions like anger, depression or distress, can lead to poor decision-making. It's advisable to gamble only when in a stable and clear-headed state.
8. Do not let gambling interfere with daily responsibilities
Never skip work to gamble and do not let it interfere with your relationships and your family life. If you notice yourself or a loved one beginning to behave in such a manner, it's a clear indication of a gambling problem and should be addressed immediately.
9. Make sure gambling is not your only interest or hobby
Diversifying interests and hobbies outside of gambling can provide a well-rounded lifestyle and prevent gambling from becoming an all-consuming activity.
10. Keep track of the time and money spent
Keeping a meticulous record of the time and money spent on gambling can provide valuable insights and help maintain control. Use diaries or bet trackers to keep track of your time and money spent gambling.
Ways to stay safe when gambling
- Talk to Someone: Regularly discuss your gambling habits with a trusted individual or a professional to maintain perspective and accountability.
- Think About Why You Are Gambling: Reflect on your motivations to ensure you're gambling for entertainment and not as a coping mechanism for personal issues.
- Monitor How Often You Are Gambling: Keep a record of your gambling frequency to identify any problematic patterns and maintain control over the habit.
- Put a Limit on Your Spending: Set a strict budget for gambling to avoid spending beyond your means, and adhere to this limit consistently.
- Always Read the Terms and Conditions: Understand the rules and terms of the games and platforms you're using to avoid misunderstandings and ensure fair play.
- Make Sure the Gambling Operator is Licensed: Engage only with licensed gambling operators to ensure they adhere to legal and fair play standards.
- Be Cautious When Sharing Personal Information: Only share personal and financial information with secure and verified gambling sites, and be wary of unknown third parties.
For more information, read the GCUK guide on how to stay safe when gambling.
Recognising Problem Gambling
Here are seven problem gambling warning signs to look out for:
1. Neglecting bills
A key symptom of harmful gambling is neglecting essential financial responsibilities, especially overlooking household bills. Those struggling with gambling often prioritise it over crucial financial duties, leading to delayed bill payments, mounting debts, and financial instability.
2. Spending more time and money on gambling than you can afford
A worrying sign of problem gambling is using savings for gambling. Withdrawing funds from savings accounts for the purpose of gambling is a serious red flag, it threatens future financial security and indicates a detrimental impact on maintaining a healthy financial standing.
3. Keeping gambling a secret from family
Many individuals with gambling problems keep their gambling a secret, with 75 per cent feeling unable to share their struggles with family or friends.
If a person goes to great lengths to hide their gambling behaviour, this may indicate awareness of the potential harm or negative consequences associated with their behaviour. If this is the case, open family communication in addressing such issues and helping them seek support is crucial.
4. Selling Personal Items for Gambling
Selling personal belongings to fund gambling is an alarming indicator of the severity of the problem. This act of desperation shows a loss of control and necessitates addressing the underlying causes and seeking help.
5. Lying About Gambling
People with gambling issues often lie about how much and how often they gamble, minimising the severity to themselves and others. Recognising and confronting this denial is crucial for seeking help and making changes.
6. Gambling to help forget problems
Using gambling as an escape from life's problems is risky behaviour. This pattern can worsen existing issues and create a destructive cycle, making it essential to find healthier coping strategies and professional assistance.
7. Stealing from relatives or friends
Stealing from family or friends to support a gambling habit is a distressing sign of severe gambling harm. This not only reflects the financial impact of gambling but also the damage to personal relationships, indicating an urgent need for intervention and support.
What to do if you think you’ve got a gambling problem
If you're noticing certain behaviours or habits in yourself that suggest you have a gambling problem, it's important to pause and reflect. Acknowledging that there is an issue is the first step.
There's a strong network of support and resources ready to help problem gamblers.
It's essential to set up 'cooling-off' periods on betting sites, creating a necessary space for you to address your gambling patterns, but the most effective immediate action is to stop all gambling activities.
This is a time for honest self-reflection and for sharing your concerns with people you trust. Do not hesitate to seek advice and support - sometimes, just talking about it can lighten the burden.
Crucially, there are understanding and confidential support services available, many of which operate in the UK.
They provide a safe space for you to express your concerns and receive guidance without judgment. We've put together a detailed list of these organisations below, including how to contact them, their websites, and other relevant details.
GambleAware is a UK charity focused on reducing gambling harms. They provide information, support, and advice to those affected by gambling addiction. The organisation emphasises research to understand and mitigate gambling's impacts and collaborates with various stakeholders for responsible gambling practices. It offers key services like free counseling and runs awareness campaigns about gambling risks.
Tel - 0808 8020133
Gamblers Anonymous is a community of men and women sharing their experiences, strengths, and hopes to address their shared problem of compulsive gambling and assist others in doing the same. This organisation provides various resources for individuals struggling with gambling addiction, including forums, chat rooms, literature and, most importantly, a meeting finder. The heart of their approach lies in their meetings, which are held daily across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, providing a platform for mutual support and recovery
Tel - 0330 0940322
GamCare is a key provider of support for those affected by problem gambling in Great Britain. They offer a variety of services, including a 24/7 helpline, live chat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger for confidential advice and emotional support. Additionally, they maintain an online forum and chatrooms for shared experiences and mutual support, ensuring comprehensive assistance for individuals dealing with gambling issues.
Get a full list of the UK organisations on the UKGC website that can help if you or a loved one has a problem gambling.
Blocking gambling transactions via Your Bank
The Card Control initiative in the UK, in collaboration with the UK Gambling Commission, has led several banks to implement a "block" or "freeze" feature on their platforms. This service allows customers to opt-in and block all transactions related to gambling, including those on debit cards directed towards online betting, gaming operators and premium line operators.
To activate this service, customers must contact their bank directly, either online or in person. The terms and conditions for this service vary with each bank or lender. Once a decision is made and confirmed, the block can be set up either permanently or for a minimum period, typically with an irreversible cooling-off period of around 48 hours.
During the period when a block or freeze is active, any attempts to make payments or deposits to betting or gaming operators using credit or debit cards from the associated bank will be instantly blocked.
The following banks and lending operators have made this tool available. Although the list is subject to change, here are the resources on how to activate a gambling block with popular UK banks:
- Bank of Scotland (BOS)
- Nationwide Building Society
- Virgin Money UK
How to block online gambling sites
Gamstop provides a free service that, once you register, will prevent you from gambling with any UK websites or apps for a period of time that you choose. To register you need to supply your postcode, date of birth and email address. You can choose to exclude yourself for six months, one year or five years. Within 24 hours your self-exclusion will be active.
Gamban can be installed on any computer, smartphone or tablet and will block access to all online gambling websites and betting apps. The software costs £1 per month per device and, once installed, it can’t be removed.
Net Nanny is a general internet filter used by thousands of people in the UK and further afield to block access to certain categories of websites, including online gambling. There are different products and prices offered, but you can protect up to five computers and mobile devices for around £1 per device per month.
Jamie Casey is a former sports journalist who now provides editorial expertise in the betting industry. His work has appeared in prestigious publications such as Sky Sports, The Irish Times, RTE, FourFourTwo and many more.