Who Is At Risk Of Becoming A Problem Gambler?

Bram Welch
2 January 2023
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Gambling is a £14 billion industry in the UK. I’d wager that almost everyone in the UK has gambled in one way or another. Whether that is sports betting, casino table games, slot machines, or even bingo and the lottery.

Gambling is ubiquitous in Great Britain. It is almost impossible to support your favourite Premier League team, by wearing their jersey without simultaneously promoting a bookmaker. The rest of the football league are all sponsored by Sky Bet.

We are constantly exposed to gambling in this country. Living in the UK as a gambling addict has been compared to an alcoholic living in a pub.

Not all of us are addicted to gambling; here, we will look into who is more likely to develop pathological gambling habits.

What is Problem Gambling?

In the UK, regular gambling is seen as problem gambling when it interferes with and disrupts your day-to-day life and/or causes problems in relationships with friends and family.

The NHS uses a series of 10 questions that you can ask yourself to determine whether you have problem gambling habits. They include questions like: “Do you gamble to escape from difficulties in your life, or to cheer yourself up?” and “Have you lied to other people about how much time or money you’ve spent gambling, or how much you’ve lost?” It is advised that if you answer yes to three or more of the questions, then gambling is probably a problem, and you should seek help. Answer more than five in the affirmative, and gambling appears to be affecting every aspect of your life.

Signs of Problem gambling

Indications that someone is suffering from a gambling disorder include:

  • Irritability when not gambling
  • Unable to stop gambling when consciously trying to
  • Gambling as a way to relieve stress
  • Chasing losses
  • Borrowing money
  • Lying about gambling

Problem gambling is a serious affliction that can lead to serious repercussions. The NHS such as mental health issues, homelessness, and even death.

Who Is At Risk?

There are various factors that can influence whether someone is presupposed to pathological gambling. They can be biological factors such as gender, but they can also be related to social and economic factors.

Gender

Men are more likely to gamble at levels with more risk of causing harm than women are by over fourfold. It is possible this is because men are more likely even to try gambling in the first place. The 2022 cost of living crisis in the UK is expected to push more women into problem gambling habits.

The figures are potentially skewed by a perception that women’s gambling isn’t harmful or because they only gambled small amounts they don’t help. Online surveys carried out at the height of the cost of living rise found stark statistics that foreshadow a gloomy future for women and problem gambling.

In October 2022, 6 million women in the UK gambled. A survey of over 1,500 women aged 18-49 found that 24% of women expected to gamble more because of the cost of living rise. They also found that 12% had already tried to turn to gambling to supplement their income. The UK charity, GambleAware launched a campaign in response to these figures with the CEO saying that their research indicates: “Women may not be aware they are starting to experience harm from gambling or may be worried about reaching out for support due to stigma or shame.”

This suggests that although men are more likely to be gambling addicts, socioeconomic pressures could see women equalise men on this subject. This in itself also suggests that socioeconomic backgrounds are a much bigger indication than gender.

Mental Health

People with ADHD are more likely to develop problem gambling habits. Studies tend to find that 10-20% of people with this condition are also gambling addicts. People living with ADHD are known to turn to substances to deal with social difficulties and dopamine dysregulation. It makes sense that gambling can also scratch that itch because gambling affects the brain similarly to substances. Research shows that gambling encourages our brain to produce 10 times more dopamine than other, more organic experiences do. This is identical to opioids and other recreational drugs.

The impulsivity and executive dysfunction associated with ADHD, are the main causes of pathological gambling in people who suffer. The processes for making decisions are impaired by the causes behind the symptoms of the disorder.

Studies have also shown that there is a strong link between traits of autism and symptoms of problem gambling. It was believed that this was more likely to be linked to the similarities between autism and ADHD. One study from 2022 entitled” “Autistic traits in young adults who gamble,” controlled for ADHD symptoms. The results of the study are believed to satisfactorily show that people who exhibit autistic traits are susceptible to symptoms of problem gambling.

Race

The effect of race on the likeliness of becoming a pathological gambler is mixed. A study shows that black people have double the rate of gambling addiction when compared to white people. Another study shows that white males are more likely to be addicted to gambling than black men by almost 20%.

Latinx people are not seen to be at risk of problem gambling, with studies showing only a 1% rate in examined people. However, other studies indicate that Latin people with mental health issues are four times more susceptible to gambling addiction than the general population.

Asian cultures are specifically interesting because gambling can often be viewed as a social activity. When gambling is much more casually a part of your culture, like in the UK, you are more prone to developing problem habits.

Largely these studies do not find any consistent correlations between race and gambling addiction. The discussions related to all of the studies linked in this section acknowledge that there are many other factors that contribute to someone becoming a pathological gambler.

Class/Socioeconomic Standing

A review into gambling published in September 2021 found evidence that people in areas of higher deprivation are at risk of gambling harms. The review argues that they may already be suffering from a greater health disparity than more affluent areas.

There is a very small selection of studies on the relationship between class and problem gambling. The jumping-off point for exploring this relationship seems to come back to research into delinquency and living in poor economic conditions.

It is not a massive leap to go from this to problem gambling, as both behaviours could arise out of desperation. Studies show that an economic disadvantage is linked to a higher risk of falling into harmful gambling habits.

Vulnerable people, such as the working class in the UK, are targeted by betting companies. There was a point in recent years when bookmakers were targeting the poorest towns in the UK for new premises. In August 2021, the UK had more bookies than supermarkets run by the big eight. The number of betting shops is on the decline, but these figures indicate that even the people at the top of the industry know poorer people are more likely to gamble.

Breaking Point

People reading this might be aware of self-exclusion schemes that allow problem gamblers to exclude themselves from gambling online and in betting shops. This was not possible until after one man in Liverpool was pushed too far by his issues with problem gambling.

Eric Baptista, who was 29 at the time, received a 12-month suspended sentence and 150 hours of community service for seven counts of criminal damage. The acts were carried out in protest after he had begged to be barred from all of his local bookies.

They continued to serve him because how could they not? He was a fantastic customer who was handing over cash every single day. One day, after losing another £100 at a William Hill betting shop, he decided to protest. Baptista bought two tins of black paint and smeared everywhere across the betting shop.

This was not the end of the protest: he used black tape and armed himself with a hammer to attack six more branches of William Hill. People had sympathy for the man, despite being prosecuted as a vandal, because he highlighted a massive issue in the UK. He arguably brought about the self-exclusion options people have now. His point in court was that bartenders aren’t allowed to serve people who have drank too much, but there was no similar protection for gamblers.

Support For Problem Gambling in the UK

The UK conscience is cognisant of the harm caused by gambling. As a result, there are hardworking charities that are doing their best to not only prevent future addicts but also support those already struggling. Another route for British people is the NHS, this free health service offers support for pathological gamblers.

GamCare is an independent charity that is the leading provider of support for anyone who is affected by gambling. This includes friends and family of problem gamblers. They have numerous contact options, so you don’t have to stress about a phone call. They have a great gambling addiction recovery toolkit too, including self-exclusion and blocking software.

The National Problem Gambling Clinic is an NHS-run clinic in London. They have over 30 years of experience amongst the team of psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and counselling psychologists. Their recovery options include cognitive behavioural therapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy.

There are similar services available elsewhere in the country, including the NHS Northern Gambling Service, the NHS Southern Gambling Service, and the West Midlands Gambling Harm Clinic.

Other options UK residents can explore are the Gordon Moody Association and Gamblers Anonymous.

Conclusion

Residents of the UK are inundated with references to gambling. There are lottery adverts every day, and it appears every sports team’s shirt is emblazoned with the logo of some bookmaker. The UK gambling industry itself is well developed – the offer of gambling establishments available is very wide.

Gambling becomes a problem when it begins to disrupt your life, affect you financially, and interfere with your relationships. Betting is a part of everyday life, but some people are more likely to get drawn in.

Evidence suggests males, in general, are more likely to become addicted to gambling, but the UK faces the threat of a huge rise in female problem gamblers. The evidence on race is inconclusive and suggests that there are other factors that cloud the results.

There are also some mental health issues and disorders that presuppose you to be a pathological gambler. Socioeconomic standing seems to be the biggest contributing factor, and betting companies know this. They use this information to target low-income areas.

Luckily in the UK, we are well aware of the risks associated with gambling, so there is plenty of support for anyone who is adversely affected. Whether that is a problem gambler or the friends and family of a problem gambler- there is someone who can help.

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 UKCasino.com & Casinogrounds.com