Despite being heavily regulated in Britain, the betting and gambling industry has steadily grown over the years, raising more than £14bn in revenue in 2021 alone. From sports to reality television and even the state of our politics, Britain loves a bet.
Or, as an old Sky Bet advertisement, launched in 2004, put it: “It matters more when there’s money on it”.
Safer Gambling Week, happening this year from 17-23 October, is therefore vital to stimulating conversations and awareness around how to gamble safely.
To most of the 42.9% of Brits who gamble, placing a bet is nothing but a harmless hobby. The rush of a win is undeniable but while it can be a great source of entertainment, for some, it can be a slippery slope into problem gambling. Public Health England estimates that 0.5% of the population are likely to be “problem gamblers”. It may not seem like much, but this means that the “harmless hobby” can be disruptive or damaging to the daily lives of over 340,000 Brits and their families.
Problem gambling can result in serious debt problems and, at a time where the cost-of-living crisis is squeezing household budgets, a worrying increase in harmful gambling could potentially be on the cards as players count on a stroke of luck to supplement their incomes. Money aside, evidence also points towards poor mental health as another side effect of problem gambling, with a number of high-profile cases in which people have taken their own lives after suffering from gambling harm.
Individuals suffering from gambling harm usually show no outward signs of their struggle. It is vital to ensure that people who grapple with gambling harm can access the help and support they need in order to prevent it from seriously impacting their lives, and the lives of the people around them. Both individuals and betting operators have a responsibility to help protect the vulnerable; together we can protect against gambling harm.
How to help problem gamblers
Words of help can sometimes be drowned out against the calls of a croupier, but firm strategies must be put in place to support people with problem gambling to protect them from serious financial or emotional consequences. From when identification of addiction starts, through to the many stages of recovery, support must be provided.
Individually, a mixture of therapy and online courses can deliver substantial help by making people feel like they are not alone and are supported throughout their addiction recovery. Creating a system of communication and accountability can help with reflection, allowing individuals to understand their triggers while rebuilding vital support networks and a healthy relationship with gambling for the future.
Raising awareness is vital too. We at Better Change have recently partnered with Southampton Football Club to promote safer betting among fans. Recognising that betting can help elevate the sporting experience, we sought to strike a balance by providing safe gambling resources both virtually and in-person during matches. These can take the form of therapy sessions or providing contact details of problem gambling helplines.
Working with operators to achieve change
However, individual efforts can only go so far in helping overcome gambling addiction. Working with gambling operators and regulators is essential to ensure consumers are protected and can enjoy gambling safely, freely and as the entertaining experience it is meant to be.
We believe that prevention is always better than cure when it comes to protecting against gambling harm. Building safer gambling campaigns needs to start at the source, which is why our work with gambling operators is vital. Delivering benchmarks and recommendations to betting companies and their stakeholders can enable the industry to work more transparently and prevent gambling harm.
Warnings about the dangers of gambling, as important as they are, need to be supplemented by mechanisms built into the gambling industry and its systems. This can provide an institutional solution to helping people overcome their addictions. Even better, it can prevent it from even happening in the first place.
For example, we have designed a Gambling Awareness Course that allows operators to implement intervention strategies for high-risk players, such as those returning from a period of time out or self-exclusion. This way, operators can ensure that players remain in control and are aware of the warning signs associated with gambling harm.
The need to address problem gambling remains urgent, especially in the cost-of-living crisis. It is often those who already struggle to pay their bills who suffer most from gambling harm. Gambling is most often enjoyed safely, but steps need to be taken by operators to ensure that is the case. The betting and gambling industry cannot wax lyrical about their prevention efforts without first helping those customers whose harm they may financially benefit from.
Victoria Reed is the founder of Better Change, which provides social responsibility strategies and providing robust safer gambling tools.