Onling gambling has soared during the pandemic
“It’s the boredom,” says ex-gambling addict Andy Gray. “The boredom and people trying to make extra money if they they find their income is down.”
The GambleAware charity has launched a new campaign, with advertising in the regional press, radio and internet, to remind people of the support that is available for people experiencing problems with gambling.
During the first month of the first lockdown in March last year, online virtual sports betting increased by 88 per cent and online poker by 53 per cent compared to the same month the previous year. Of course, not all this would be problem betting, and much will simply be money that would otherwise have been spent on other forms of lockdown.
The Gordon Moody Association, a West Midland-based national charity that helps gambling addicts, reported a three-fold increase in the number of people contacting its helpline more than trebled in May last year. The charity also reported an unprecedented 20-person waiting list for its residential treatment programme
Dominik Batthyany, a psychotherapist and head of the Institute for Behavioural Addiction at the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna, says that for some gambling has become a coping mechanism.
“Many people have lost their jobs, so they sit at home with nothing to do. Add anxiety or conflicts to that, and many will choose gambling as a way to cope,” he says.
The new ad campaign will remind people that the National Gambling Treatment Service is there to help anybody who is showing signs of addiction.
As well as an increase in online gambling, research by GambleAware also says a reduction in appointments with mental health professionals and face-to-face meetings during the pandemic makes it all the more important that people are aware of the support from the National Gambling Treatment Service.
The charity’s research also found the West Midlands to have one of the highest concentrations of people at ‘very high risk’ of gambling harm.
Zoe Osmond of GambleAware says: “So far the campaign has proven to be successful in encouraging people to contact the National Gambling Treatment Service for support, but there is still more to be done.
“During the pandemic and this extremely difficult time for people, it is vital that we continue to ensure those in need of help understand what services are available to them, which is why we are taking this targeted approach to help reach those high risk areas across Great Britain.”
The ad campaign, entitled: Start to Regain Control, focuses on the all-consuming nature of gambling with the inclusion of the line “when you’re there, but not there”. It draws upon the idea that people with gambling problems feel disconnected from their family and friends and is based on promoting confidence that treatment is easy to access and will help them overcome their struggles with gambling.
The National Gambling Treatment Service works alongside, the National Health Service, providing telephone, online and face-to-face treatment for both individuals and groups, across Great Britain. It is provided by a network of NHS trusts and voluntary organisations, with most people getting help by contacting the 24-hour phone line.
Mr Gray, who is 48, now works in a voluntary capacity with several of the gambling treatment services.
Not to be confused with the two famous footballers of the same name, he now gives talks in prisons, including to inmates whose crimes have stemmed from gambling problems. He has also teamed up with former Wales goalkeeper Neville Southall to offer regular question-and-answer sessions on Twitter.
Mr Gray,of Cannock in Staffordshire, says that while social distancing laws have affected the way help is delivered, he emphasises that it is still available for those who need it.l
He says the important thing is to confide in someone the moment it becomes a problem.
“Just speak to somebody, speak to family members, or get them to look at your bank statements, or go to any of the treatment providers,” he says.
“It is important that you do it as soon as you can,” he says. “It will come as a huge relief to finally get it out into the open.”
l To contact the National Gambling Treatment Service, telephone 0808 8020 133 free of charge, or see the website begambleaware.org/ngts