I have often been asked by those in the gambling industry, what is it really like to have an addiction? What could the gambling industry have done differently and how has addiction and failings of operators impacted you and those closest to you? Just how did you manage to stop? What due diligence did the operator not do? It is with the answers to these questions there is a growing sense perhaps that the 100,000s failed by lack of social responsibility interactions, could now create the gambling industry a major reputational and financial problem, due to their inability to adhere to licensing objectives.
Exploitation by gambling firms
Personal viewpoints about gambling industry failings in terms of ignoring self-exclusions, VIP schemes, broken complaints processes and the use of data for exploitation have been covered in my other Gamvisory blogs. Rules, regulations and laws are in place but routinely ignored. From experience, I feel the industry do have a joint responsibility and have failed. They know how to exploit individual anxieties, stresses, loneliness, financial problems and create product offerings that are fast and immersive, driving a feeling of escapism. They know how to put 100% of the failings onto the individual with the use of terms like ‘you’ and ‘self’ repeatedly in their responsible gambling messaging, whilst not accepting any wrong doing for the legacy of harm caused.
The consequences of gambling harm
It is important to highlight what have been the consequential impact of these joint accountability failings with gambling firms at a personal level. For me, the impact of gambling addiction can be categorised into two key areas. The financial impact and mental/physical wellbeing. It is these areas that an industry with apparently no morals or perceive no duty of care around the wellbeing of people, for me have had the biggest impact.
I should be very clear I have not bet personally for over 16 months. I am currently registered with GamStop, use Gamban, attended Gamcare counselling, NHS psychological services as well as attended private medical treatment. To have had to use such services for addiction I still find staggering and extreme but know they have helped me. Having been a gambler on and off for 16 years, sometimes profitably, it was a period of despair from June 2018 to December 2018 in being made a VIP with no checks, despite being self-excluded that has caused me and my family major challenges. Using my experience, I’ll now address each of the consequences in turn:
The impact on any gambler’s finances, even when not addicted can vary. For me, my gambling was regularly funded via personal loans. I earned a relatively good salary when gambling and always paid my essential bills. With my ‘clean’ credit file and earnings well above the national average this meant I was able to get a steady line of credit, permitting gambling deposits into the £30,000s some months, some x9-10 net monthly earnings. Between 2016 and 2018, I was able to get over 9 personal loans in a short time. These totalled well over £110,000. Almost all of this was used for gambling via an eWallet. Of this amount I amassed over £70,000 in debt to gambling. Quite staggering isn’t it?
I sometimes do wonder if gambling firms had access to my credit file. During this period of extreme borrowing and gambling, I also had another 25 loan searches as I frantically scrambled about for more lending to keep me gambling in later 2018. Someone must have thought, something is not right here at some point? Fortunately, I never did get any of these later loans, which would have taken me into the payday segment and guarantor loans. Who knows what I next would have done?
Post gambling, it has a huge impact on your finances. You lose all trust. I was clearly a payday gambler, robbing ‘Peter to pay Paul’ with my lending. All my monthly expenses were met but I’d be gambling far in excess of my salary every month. The VIP offers, emails and bonuses continued to come in. You can function perfectly normally in secret for years (sometimes a decade or more) before this spirals to a shuddering halt. The gambling industry know this.
I am no longer trusted with money. My credit file is an absolute mess. Lenders are being given token payments as I attempt to recover. Some have been understandable, and some have not, with mildly threatening letters arriving as debts are sold on. The ability to enjoy life becomes taken away from you. Slowly but surely it does become possible to clear these massive debts, but it involves years of hardship and being frugal ahead.
Physical and mental wellbeing
It is not just harm to myself but also indirect harm to others that these gambling companies are causing. The amount of misery caused for millions is frightening.
Yes, there will be a mild thrill for a few minutes on a Saturday or midweek, when you have that “big win” but you often question what you were chasing? Anxiety, stress, escapism, family ill health were all triggers for me to gamble. Gaining weight, not sleeping, bad skin, lack of concentration, bad memory and a general feel of self-loathing are other physical consequences. Combine all this whilst almost trying to put a ‘polish’ on things so all seems well when your world is crumbling around you is the hardest.
It is with a period of enforced self-isolation that I think back to not being able to meet friends, go on holiday or treat family members to any sort of gift that becomes hard. It is the simple things in life that are in important. Multiple times in the last 18 months my family unit has almost collapsed. Children have come near to losing their father and a separated family. Sleeping in a car, the office, sofa or tent. These are the embarrassing realities of the consequences of gambling harm that you won’t see in industry funded messaging. There will be much worse off than me. I don’t see myself as a fortunate one even though some have decided to steal money, been left on the streets, in prison or the worst of cases taken their own life from gambling harm. These are the realities of the impact on people’s lives and perhaps the industry needs to take this into account when paying what appears to be “lip service” to the responsible gambling narrative.
There needs to be a more ethical and sustainable industry going forward. I am not anti-gambling but am anti-gambling harm. This ‘profit before protection’ approach has now gone too far. At times with addiction there becomes ‘acceptance’ and it’s just unfortunate that gambling operators addicted to exploring individuals have yet to accept their wrongdoings also.
With a growing number of experts by experience now shaking off the stigma of gambling harm within society and helping identify industry failings, perhaps the gambling firms should have been more transparent sooner also. Change is coming, and the tables will soon turn where financial challenges and wellbeing hit the industry, all because of a constant desire to ignore regulations. The reputational harm from the legacy of gambling harm could be huge.