Our CEO, Anna Hemmings, shares her thoughts during this year’s Safer Gambling Week…
This week is Safer Gambling Week – an industry led initiative to raise the profile of safer gambling. At GamCare we often get asked what ‘safer’ means in this context. I always reflect that for each of the 40,000 people we help every year, the answer can vary considerably. We are led by the people who come to us for help and support, either for them or a loved one. Often by the time they reach out for help safer could mean helping them navigate a life without gambling. What is important during weeks like this that we shine a light on gambling as a topic, the potential harms people can experience and the help and support that is available. We want people to reach out to us earlier – we know many don’t recognise they have a problem, for others stigma prevents them reaching out – regardless of how their gambling impacts their quality of life.
To mark this week, in collaboration with YouGov, we recently asked 1,510 people who gamble at least once a year what they do to gamble safely. Over a third (39%) of people said they stuck to spending limits to keep themselves safe, and nearly a quarter (23%) said they avoid betting on fixed-odds machines. Just over half (52%) of people surveyed mentioned that they would only gamble on specific things such as certain sports or events. Certainly, for people that we’re in touch with through our services, safer will often mean not at all.
For those who want to stop, or have stopped gambling, tools like GAMSTOP, the national self-exclusion scheme, and Gamban, blocking software that prevents access to gambling sites from up to 15 devices, can be very effective. That is why we are running the TalkBanStop campaign to encourage people to call The National Gambling Helpline that we run and sign up to the tools available. These tools are not a panacea – but they offer a number of key benefits, including a belt and braces approach to preventing access to online gambling. But more than this they help create the space in which other activities to support recovery take place, and they help people feel both confident in and committed to addressing gambling problems. This in itself often brings peace of mind.
Regardless of what we can do ourselves to be safe, it is clear that the public feel that gambling businesses are not playing their part – only 28% of respondents from our YouGov survey agreed with the statement that gambling businesses are doing enough to ensure customers play safely. While the Government reviews gambling legislation, we hope that it brings about the changes that people want to see.
Everything we do at GamCare is informed by the experiences of those who reach out to us. We are taking part in a series of events throughout this week which allow us to place their stories at the heart of conversations about the risks around gambling, whilst raising awareness of our helpline and the range of support options that are available.
Right now, only a small number of the people estimated to be harmed by gambling in Great Britain receive support – according to data from across the National Gambling Treatment Service, around 3% of those people accessed support and treatment in 2019/20. Last year, more people reached out to us than ever before with a 9% increase in calls and chats, with our practitioners delivering over 55,000 treatment sessions and assessments – an increase of 14%. Recent research from Kings College London, one of the largest studies of gambling treatment undertaken in recent years, shows that our treatment is effective, and that significant improvement can be seen in the first three treatment sessions.
There is still work to be done to ensure GamCare is known as a first port of call. If you think someone you know needs support, please get in touch. We urge anyone who is struggling with gambling to contact us, whether it’s their own or someone else’s gambling.
Our helpline team works around the clock to support those experiencing gambling related harms. We know how difficult it can be to reach out for the first time and we want people to know that we are here and we can help. Once people have made that first contact with us, we can find ways forward that suit the person and their circumstances. It’s that first step that often feels the hardest for people. So sometimes it is about giving people hope, and reassuring people that change is possible.