‘I lied to everyone I met’: how gambling addiction took hold of women in the UK
IIt was Christmas Day in 2018 that things took a turn for Bev. By his own admission, it had been “a beautiful day”. “Everything was screwed up,” she said. “There was no reason why I should have played, but in my head – in a player’s head – it was Christmas Day, so you couldn’t lose. I thought to myself that they wouldn’t do that to you on Christmas Day.
Within 90 minutes, the 59-year-old from Newcastle had bet £5,000. “I emptied my husband’s bank account,” she says The Independent. “I even borrowed money from my daughter pretending that I had an urgent bill to pay. I lost everything – and then I overdosed.
The UK is home to one of the largest gambling markets in the world, generating a profit of £14.2 billion in 2020. Gambling has historically been classified as a problem that largely affects men, but research of GambleAware from January this year revealed that the number of women treated for gambling had doubled in five years, with up to one million women at risk of experiencing gambling-related problems. He added that this figure could not represent only a small proportion of women experiencing gambling-related harm.
Bev’s gambling problems started about 16 years ago. “I entered a contest on a popular TV website and a game pop-up appeared and I thought, ‘I’ll give it a try,'” she said. Before that, she had never acted: “It just wasn’t something that interested me. It was like throwing away money. »
After depositing £10, she quickly won £800. “I couldn’t believe the money belonged to me,” she says. “I then started depositing more and more and that £800 disappeared very quickly. After that I was hooked.”
An early victory was also ‘the hook’ that kept Stacey, 29, from Derbyshire, back for more at the start of her gambling addiction. Her poison was slots and scratch cards. “It’s fast and completely mind-numbing to watch the wheels turn,” she says.
The numbing effect of gambling is a big draw for many women who gamble, experts say. Liz Karter MBE, a leading British female gambling addiction therapist, says the forgetfulness offered by gambling can provide a space away from the stresses of everyday life. “You’ll rarely hear women talk about liking the buzz or the excitement of the game, or liking the kudos that winning gives them like a lot of men do,” she says. The Independent.
“For women, gambling is about getting lost in an experience where, ultimately, they don’t think or feel anything. The focus on gambling is a distraction from stressful thoughts and feelings. It’s an escape from responsibility. and crushing anxieties.
It’s a familiar story to Tracey, 58, from Berkshire. “My game was never about the money,” she says. “It filled the void. When I was playing, I didn’t care about anything… the game took me out of my reality.
For Bev, things had started to fall apart long before that fateful Christmas and got worse over the years. As the head of household finances, she had easy access to money, but unbeknownst to those close to her, she had used up all her credit cards and taken out loans to pay them off, which went straight into her gambling funds. She also borrowed money from friends, family and even people from work. “I lied to everyone I met,” she said. “I was in a terrible place mentally.
“My husband and I both make good salaries and I often waited until midnight on payday when the money came into my account each month. My husband was sleeping in his bed and within hours I was had screwed it all up.
All of the women spoke of the “ease” of online gambling and its 24-hour availability. Tracey describes the Internet as “the crack of the game”. She says, “When I started playing, places opened and closed. I might have been the first in and the last out, but there was still a closing time.
Before going online, Stacey had traveled between different bookmakers in an effort to avoid drawing attention to her gambling problem. Online, however, things were very different. “It was so easy. Nobody knew what I was doing.
Karter draws a direct link between an increase in gambling among women and its growing ubiquity. “We have gambling in our homes, our offices and our purses,” she says. “However, we need to look at any addiction in a social and mental health context. We are seeing an increase in stress, depression and anxiety in women leading to gambling self-medication…it is all too easy to get lost in the virtual world of online gambling.
The three women found the support they needed through a women-only residential retreat with Gordon Moody, which is part of a network of organizations within the National Gambling Treatment Service that offer a range of treatments. “I went into it as a broken woman, but left feeling like there was hope,” Bev says. “They gave us the tools and strategies to stop you right before you placed a bet. It’s brilliant. Something just clicked and it worked.
Stacey admits she was initially ‘extremely skeptical’ about the service’s ability to help her, but describes it as ‘the best thing I’ve ever done’.
While all three women describe themselves as on the mend from the game, some of the aftermath is harder to forget.
“Payday loans, credit cards — my debt was huge,” says Stacey. “I was moving house to house and living with friends because I couldn’t go anywhere with my bad credit. This is a long-term game issue that I’m still working on – it’s going to be a long time before I can get a house.
Bev would like to see major reforms in the gambling industry. “One of the worst things that happened when I tried to quit gambling was when companies messaged you as a ‘VIP customer’ and said, ‘We haven’t seen you in a while – here’s 200 £ in your account”. It was so bad.
“I also think they should do checks on new account holders, like when you apply for a loan,” she adds. “The number of times I’ve deposited thousands of pounds in a very short time…they must have realized I had a problem, but they encouraged it all the more.”
A government white paper addressing these issues is long overdue and is expected to be released this month. MP Carolyn Harris, chair of the all-party Parliamentary Gambling Harm Group, called the need for affordability checks, spending caps and independent assessments on new users “overwhelming”.
Stacey, Bev and Tracey all want more people to understand that this is a devastating condition that can and does affect women – but that help is available.
“It’s so important to reach out and talk to someone,” Tracey says. “No matter where you are from or how old you are – you will never be alone.”
Stacey agrees. “I don’t want anyone to feel as alone as I do. If you can get past the shame, there are so many places to go that specifically help women where you won’t be judged. Taking that first step is scary, but so worth it. There is hope.”
For information, support and advice on problem gambling, contact:
Gordon Moody (gordonmoody.org.uk), Aware of the bet (begambleaware.org), Gamblers Anonymous, which hosts a number of “female-favorite” online and real-life get-togethers (gamblersanonymous.org.uk), BetKnowMore (betknowmoreuk.org) and GamCare (www.gamcare.org.uk).