“You can find yourself gambling without making a conscious decision to be there,” remarked one enviously articulate 16-year-old. It was a cold December morning that framed this year’s GambleAware conference, where advocates from YGAM – an organisation that educates young people about gambling risks – explained that children are not protected well enough. With child-directed marketing, cryptocurrency, social casinos, gambling streams and in-game gambling features, it is clear that regulation is simply insufficient at protecting our children.
In the UK, just shy of a quarter of a million individuals are estimated to be experiencing significant harm from gambling. But these individuals have friends, parents, partners and children who are impacted too. In total, 3.6 million people are “affected” by serious gambling harms. This burden, as is so often the case, falls disproportionately on those of low-economic status. Gambling harm acts as a multiplier effect to the stream of other public health issues that come knocking at the same doors.
The conference sits against a backdrop of healthcare pressures, a cost-of-living crisis, Christmas, and the World Cup; a cocktail of risk factors that no mixologist with a conscience would serve. This is because increasing financial pressure increases gambling frequency, with 24% of women anticipating gambling more often during the cost-of-living crisis. Literally against all odds, people are hoping to pay for food and heating with “winnings”.
Still, these sentiments are not the only sobering details from that day. I was struck by the fervent voices from those with lived experience of gambling harm, opening up about homelessness, compounded stigma, and suicidal ideation (over 400 people a year take their own life because of gambling harm.) But also inspired by their messages of hope, of rebuilt lives, families sticking together, and lives saved. It was remarkable. The message was clear: action must be taken to minimise harm and any holistic approach must be informed by those with lived experience.
Ben Ford is a research associate at the Bristol Hub for Gambling Harms Research at the University of Bristol, and a PhD candidate in Psychology at Edge Hill University.