Are Gambling Debts Enforceable?

Bram Welch
22 December 2022

Gambling problems can seriously exacerbate ongoing debt problems. Borrows more to bet with can make matters much worse. There is legislation in the UK that attempts to protect people from gambling debt. For example, lending by someone who is also providing betting services is unlawful. It would fall foul of the Gambling Act (2005) and the Consumer Credit Act (1974).

How Do People Get Into Gambling Debt?

People can fall into gambling debts for numerous reasons, but they tend to be linked to addiction and/or chasing losses.

People suffering from gambling addiction can often end up getting into debt while feeding the addiction. Addiction is caused by an increased desire to gamble while the emotional payoff diminishes. This is caused by the dopamine released when we do something we enjoy. As the dopamine released by that action starts to have less effect on the body, addicts look for bigger risks to get the hit.

People could also get into gambling debt from chasing their losses. Some people are more susceptible to a style of thinking that encourages them to recoup a loss by betting more. Just like addiction, it comes back to taking bigger risks to solve a perceived problem.

Bookies Don’t Offer Credit

It is illegal for bookmakers and online casinos operating in the UK to accept payments via credit card. They are also not permitted to give credit to customers, a fact which is not true worldwide. The UK’s strict gambling laws protect punters from the dangers of gambling with credit.

In the U.S., casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City grant credit to their customers. Credit provided to customers, along with unpaid casino markers and bad cheques, are beginning to threaten the hospitality industry in these areas.

Regulators and policymakers in the UK are more concerned with protecting the public from the harm potentially caused by gambling. That is just one of the reasons we have measures that prevent people from gambling with credit.

This then begs the question:

Who are gambling debts payable to?

Now we know bookmakers can’t give out credit and that you cannot gamble in bookie shops with a credit card; who do people get in debt with?

Payday Loan Companies

Regular gambling will eventually adversely affect your wallet. Addicts try to hide their behaviour, so despite losing everything, they still need to maintain an air of normality. This can cause people to turn to payday loans.

Payday loan companies are predatory lending companies that benefit from offering attractive loans to people at their most needy. During the pandemic, when more reputable lenders like banks were slashing their interest rates, payday lenders were seen increasing theirs to 780%.

It is easy to say that you shouldn’t take out loans with such massive interest rates when you are of sound mind. Addicts do not behave rationally. They might believe they are able to pay the lent money back. It is also possible they are so intent on acquiring the money for whatever reason that they are not reading the terms and conditions correctly or are completely disregarding them. Addicts are acting on an immediate fix and not thinking about the future repercussions.


The rigorous process of acquiring a loan from a bank would prevent anyone from taking out a loan to gamble. Therefore, people are likely to be in debt to a bank through overdrafts. Overdrafts are offered for free as well as for a percentage fee or even a monthly fee. It is easy to drain through an overdraft when chasing the high of gambling or chasing a loss, and these fees can tip them over the edge. There is often a charge for exceeding an overdraft which makes it easy to spiral into more debt.

Loan Sharks

A loan shark is someone who unlawfully lends money. Money lenders have to be authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) unless they are a family or friend. Anyone lending money without this authorisation is a loan shark. People with low credit scores turn to loan sharks when even payday loans are rejecting them.

The issue with loan sharks is the amount you owe back to them is capricious. They charge ridiculously high-interest rates, and they can change the amount you owe on a whim. The debt can appear neverending, and they are known to use illegal and even violent methods when seeking to collect their money.

Help With Gambling Debts

If someone is in debt as a result of gambling addiction, the first issue that needs to be tackled is stopping them from gambling. There are plenty of charities, and there is lots of support in the UK for problem gamblers. Self-exclusion schemes can really help someone avoid the triggers too.

Once the addiction is addressed, you can start thinking about clearing the debt. It could be owed to several places, so make a list of everybody you owe. This can be daunting but will start to show how it is manageable.

The next step is to make a budget. Total up your outgoings and work out how much you can spare to start clearing the debt each month.

Some people consider getting a second income. Working will distract from the temptation of gambling. It can also help make those monthly payments bigger and therefore pay off the debt quicker.

A drastic step you can take, and one suggested by the debt support centre, is to sell a valuable item. While this is an option, it seems like a quick fix to something that could be approached systematically.

For more detailed and contextual advice, you should turn to services like the Citizens Advice Bureau. They are an entirely independent organisation that offers confidential support, particularly regarding legal, debt, and consumer advice.


When speaking from a place of privilege in terms of not suffering from gambling addiction, it is easy to be judgmental. Consider that addicts are not making decisions with sound minds. When choosing to take on debt in order to pursue gambling, the decision maker sees it as a short-term solution that they will rectify as soon as possible. The odds might have something different to say about this.

Gamblers are never in debt to bookmakers as this contravenes gambling laws in the UK. The debt is likely to have come from more desperate measures such as payday loans, overdrafts, or even loan sharks. These are difficult to pay off, but with advice and support from charities and organisations, like Citizens Advice, it is possible to clear. It will soon be clear that this debt is manageable.

Author Bram Welch

After working in journalism, teaching and hosting radio, I am now enjoying working on long-form articles around the gambling industry and iGaming for &