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How gambling your way out of a tight spot isn't the solution

Man looking worriedly at mobile device

Recent research has shown that many UK employees are under significant financial pressure or struggling as a result of many years of austerity coupled with the hammer blow of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impacts are being felt across the country irrespective of industry, sector, roles or salary.

The uncertainty of the pandemic and fragile state of the job market adds to people’s worries and can hugely contribute to their mental health and financial wellbeing.

For some of us, through desperation and the will to try something different to try and solve the immediate problem, gambling can be seen as a ‘silver bullet’.

Whether that be buying a few scratch cards at the corner shop or going online to have a punt on the horses or casino games, regularly taking part in these activities where you can end up ‘chasing’ your losses, isn’t a long-term healthy financial solution, here’s how one student described it:

‘I’m a 20-year-old student who’s been struggling with gambling since turning 18 and that physically makes me feel sick.

It started like most people’s journey into this: winning big off a small deposit on the roulette wheel and then being hooked from then onwards. Stakes get higher and the next thing you know you’re chasing and have lost all your student loan (in my case).

I really want to escape this life of problem gambling as I am only young. The stress and upset that comes with these big losses isn’t something I want to continue with especially knowing that it’s nothing but my own fault.’

Anonymous October ‘20

However, there is help to support people with a range of issues arising from gambling. If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with this issue (signs can include mood disorders, blaming others or being secretive), detailed below are some suggestions that might help prevent a downward spiral.  

Debt and reducing risk of financial exposure

Debt is a common by-product of gambling that can have far-reaching effects. However, there is help available and the Money Advice Service has a range of support on its website called Help – if you’re struggling with debt.

Support includes getting free confidential help around debt and access to a debt health check tool, particularly useful for evaluating your situation. Often advice will steer people to have an honest dialogue with a bank or mortgage company and these organisations are well-equipped to support customers going through a financial crisis so it’s best to not put off the conversation and make contact. They’ll be able to suggest how to tackle the essentials like mortgage payments and putting food on the table while getting things back on an even keel.  

Additional help

Gamcare is the leading national provider of free information, advice and support for anyone affected by problem gambling. If you want to check whether you have a problem or feel you want to share experiences with other people going through a similar situation, their website has a wide range of support available including a How safe is your gambling assessment and a gambling diary worksheet.

‘I’m eternally grateful for this platform, for the supporters and helpers and gamcare. The fellow humans that take time to post and check in, for the story-sharing, the encouragement and the stark, brutal reality of gambling addiction.’

Dan - October 2020

The NHS also has a dedicated area - Help for problem gambling which contains a wealth of information about where to get help. There’s also a short questionnaire which helps you identify where there may be an issue.

Gamblers Anonymous UK runs local support groups that use the same 12-step approach to recovery from addiction as Alcoholics Anonymous.

If you’re particularly concerned about your own mental wellbeing or you see signs in someone that they’re really not coping then there is 24-hour support available through Samaritans.

Self-help tips for problem gamblers 

Do:

  • pay important bills, such as your mortgage, on payday before you gamble
  • spend more time with family and friends who don't gamble
  • deal with your debts rather than ignoring them – visit the National Debtline for tips

Don't:

  • view gambling as a way to make money – try to see it as entertainment instead
  • bottle up your worries about your gambling – talk to someone
  • take credit cards with you when you go gambling 

Making healthier choices

For many people gambling can turn from an occasional pastime into a habitual activity, fuelled by trigger events like a stressful day at work or an argument with a spouse over finances.

The key to this is to identify one’s trigger points and put strategies in place to remove the temptation. If possible, try to have an honest conversation about how this makes you feel.  Additionally, learning new ways to relieve stress or boredom like taking up a new hobby or practising breathing techniques can help deal with the immediate craving.

Finally, our guide to protecting your mental and financial wellbeing in uncertain times may also offer some useful pointers to support you during this period.