It’s all fun and games, until somebody loses and eye. Or their house, car and family. Problem gambling is unavoidable as a small fraction of the general population are pathological gamblers. So, in this installment of Facts and Figures, we talk about problem gambling. Thankfully, the number of people, who have the tendency for their gambling habit to become unmanageable is small. In this article, I dispel all the myths and shape up the size of problem gambling in the UK.
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Problem gambling is a serious issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly – gambling addiction is extremely hard to cure and manage. The people who are faced with this issue will spend too much money and time than they can afford, thus leading to grave consequences for themselves, their family and the society in general. Yet, how big is this problem exactly? We talk about all the ins and outs in this Facts and Figures article.
Just How Big The ‘Problem’ of Problem Gambling Is
We’ve spoken about the Types of Gambling that people engage in, but it’s not always just innocent entertainment. Problem gambling is an issue that must be taken with all due seriousness, yet the size of the problem is usually exacerbated. Especially in popular media, it seems that every year that gambling grows the alarm bells are rung about the increasing numbers of pathological gamblers, people who’ve lost it all to gambling are profiled in newspapers and broadcast on TV.
Let’s first define problem gambling. It’s cited by GamCare, a UK organisation for problem gambling support and help, to be “gambling to a degree which compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits.” People who are problem gamblers can experience depression, insomnia, suicidal thoughts and desperation.
Luckily, less than one in 100 people in the UK are problem gamblers, based on the Health Survey data. To be more precise, out of the entire population of gamblers, 0.5% admittedly have a problem, a further 4.2% are at high risk, 3.2% at low risk and 1% at moderate risk of becoming problem gamblers. At risk people may be exhibiting some troubling behaviours, but are still in control of their gambling, as defined by the Health Survey.
Contrary to popular belief, the 0.5% number has remained stable throughout the years, indicating that no matter how large the number of people gambling, only half percent of the population will have any issues with it whatsoever. This is great news! The absolute majority (99.5%) of all wagers placed in all sectors of gambling are within the money limits people can allow themselves to lose and the sheer entertainment of the gambling doesn’t prevent them from leading fulfilling lives.
The Typical Problem Gambler Behaviour
So who are these 0.5% and what destructive behaviours do they engage in? In other words, when does the gambling fun become uncontrollable? GamCare, the charity that reportedly answers 35,00 calls and messages from problem gamblers a year, cites that some people are more likely than others to fall into the trap of problem gambling. Among those at increased risk are:
- Men – twice as likely as women to be problem gamblers
- Young – much more likely to engage in destructive gambling behaviours than older players
- Education – the less education one has, the higher their chances of being at risk
- Religion – surprisingly, Catholics are more likely to be at risk than the followers of other religions
- Ethnicity – minorities, such as Asian British or Black British are more likely to becoming problem gamblers
- Marital status – divorcees are more often problem gamblers than married people
- History – those people, who have history of gambling in the family
Furthermore, the Gambling Commission data (2014) shows that the incentive for problem gamblers to keep on going can be mostly attributed to preoccupation with gambling (2.5%), chasing losses (2.1%) and the perceived need to increase their bets (0.9%).
Social Responsibility in Gambling Is Highly Important
So, your typical problem gambler would be a young Catholic male, who smokes and drinks regularly, and has perhaps dropped out of formal education with little else to do than gamble. Of course, it’s not that easy and problem gamblers come in all shapes and sizes. The most important thing is to recognise the signs and stop problem gambling in its tracks, before it’s done irrecoverable damage.
It’s undeniable that problem gambling has a destructive impact on the lives of problem gamblers themselves, but also their families and the society feels the strain too. Such people might steal from their employer, let out their emotions by smashing the glass of a bus stop or become addicted to drugs or alcohol, increasing their health risks.
However, the risk of problem gambling is not on the rise and is definitely in line or smaller than other developed countries, e.g. 0.3% in Sweden, 1.4% in Australia (compare that to 5.3% in Hong Kong!). Plus, casinos and other betting operators are now better than ever before at sniffing out irregular behaviour, such as blowing through large sums of money in short periods of time. Self-exclusion and other self-imposed limits in terms of money and time are available to help control behaviour too.
Yet, if you find yourself in hot water or you see a friend who is struggling, the aforementioned GamCare, an organisation that supports problem gamblers, can help. Their helpline (0808 8020 133) is open 8AM to midnight every single day. It’s free, confidential and there’s always someone on the other end of the phone to offer support and guidance!