THE LOSING HAND
Just as lockdowns saw drinking shift from physical venues to home , so it was with gambling . But the exponential rise in online gambling – where anyone with a smartphone has instant access to a vast casino that never shuts – is hitting women particularly hard . DDN reports
The hearing into the role gambling played in the death of 24-year-old Jack Ritchie has once again put gambling addiction in the headlines , and coincides with the NHS informing the GambleAware charity that it would no longer be accepting funding from the industry for its gambling clinics ( see news , page 5 ). Ritchie had started gambling while at school , using his dinner money to play on fixed-odds betting terminals ( FOBT ), dubbed the ‘ crack cocaine of gambling ’. Just seven years later he took his own life , with his parents arguing that he was addicted to ‘ products licensed by the start ’.
Last month NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch wrote to GambleAware confirming that the NHS will fully fund its own gambling services from April onwards , following unease among clinicians and patients around the perceived conflict of interest of industry funding for treatment . May will see the NHS open two new gambling clinics , in Southampton and Stoke-on-Trent , to complement its existing services in Leeds , London , Manchester and Sunderland , as well as the national children and young person ’ s clinic .
The two new facilities are to help meet the ‘ record demand for specialist support for gambling addiction ’, the NHS states , with rates of online gambling in particular rising over the last couple of years , as people worked from home or found themselves with huge amounts of time on their hands after being furloughed . A study led by the University of Bristol found that , while lockdowns meant that overall people were gambling less frequently as physical premises closed their doors , use of online poker , bingo and casino games increased six-fold among people who were already regular gamblers . Online games have also made gambling much more accessible to women , who may have been unlikely to visit high-street betting shops . A YouGov poll of almost 10,000 women using the Problem Gambling Severity Index found that up to 1m women may now be at risk of gambling harm , and according to GambleAware the number of women receiving treatment for problem gambling has doubled over the last five years to just under 2,500 – a figure that ’ s likely to represent ‘ a fraction ’ of those experiencing gambling-related harms , the charity states . Just under 40 per cent of women may also ‘ refrain from seeking help or treatment ’ as a result of the stigma surrounding the issue , with GambleAware launching its first harm prevention scheme
KELLY ’ S STORY
The intimidating men-only environments of betting shops meant that problem gambling was largely a male problem , but the rise of online gambling has changed all that . Kelly Field describes how what started as a few games of online bingo led to financial and emotional devastation
I started with online bingo sites in around 2012 . I was looking for an escape from reality , and you ’ ll find that with a lot of women you speak to – they want escapism from day-to-day life or from trauma . I think I realised I had a problem early on , but you cross that invisible line of it becoming an addiction .
Within six months I ’ d spend ten and a half grand on one credit card , no questions asked . There are triggers for harm data which would have flagged me up and they should have followed their duty of care , but rather than using it to signpost people to help and prevent them getting into trouble they use it to exploit them . The credit card company didn ’ t say anything either , and it ’ s taken me seven years to pay the debt off .
IanDagnall / Alamy
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