Safer gambling and gambling awareness have become crucial in the 21st century as gambling and gaming pose a dual impact of pleasure and pain. However, it is essential to address the increasing problem of gambling addiction that accompanies these activities.

According to Wikipedia: 

“Gambling dates back at least to the Palaeolithic period, before written history. In Mesopotamia the earliest six-sided dice date to about 3000 BCE. However, they were based on astragali dating back thousands of years earlier.”

Gambling and gaming have been common entertainment in the UK for many centuries: Queen Elizabeth I commissioned the first national lottery drawn in 1569 to raise money for shipbuilding - but it’s time to raise gambling awareness and the problems it can sometimes cause. 

Definition of gambling

Under the Gambling Act 2005, betting is defined as:

Making or accepting a bet on:

  • The outcome of a race, competition or other event or process
  • The likelihood of anything occurring or not occurring
  • Whether anything is or is not true

Gaming is defined as “playing a game of chance for a prize.” 

A “game of chance” includes:

  • A game that involves both an element of chance and an element of skill
  • A game that involves an element of chance that can be eliminated by superlative skill 
  • A game that is presented as involving an element of chance, but does not include a sport

What does this mean in real life?

Some common gambling/betting games are:

  • Slot machines
  • Scratch cards
  • Push money machines
  • Card games (e.g. Poker or Blackjack)
  • Bingo
  • Sports betting
  • Casinos (live and online)
  • Betting on the outcome of political events or the winners of TV programmes
  • The National Lottery, both drawn games and Instant Wins

Some of these have the status of being a fun national pastime such as the Boat Race, the Grand National or the Derby, but others such as cage fighting, dog/cock fighting or other backstreet betting activities are often considered as coarse, connected with gangs or crime syndicates and are often illegal. 

There are also ways where seemingly innocuous activities could be considered gambling, such as purchasing in-play loot boxes in certain online games. In these scenarios, players pay a small fee for a ‘loot box’ which can contain certain enhancements or prizes of value in the game. But the players are unsure of what is in the box before they part with their cash.

Why is this a problem?

Many of us enjoy the odd ‘flutter’ and can play the National Lottery once or twice a week with low stakes without any problem. The issue comes when gambling becomes more than this and can become an addiction that can ruin people financially, split up families and cause severe stress and mental illness to not only the gamblers themselves, but to those around them. 

According to the NHS, there may be up to 593,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain. Many people are unaware they have a gambling problem. Problem gambling is defined as gambling that is disruptive or damaging to a person, their family, or in a way that interferes with their daily life.

Problems of addiction

Harm from gambling is not just related to losing out financially. It can affect people’s mental health, their self-esteem, work, relationships, and social life. It can also affect their physical well-being too. Gambling harm affects people from all walks of life and all ages and can destroy families and affect communities. 

Gambling awareness campaigns

A few campaigns and events spread over the year aim to raise gambling awareness in the general population and help people affected by problem gambling to reach out to the various associated charities and organisations.

These include:

  • Gambling Harm Awareness Week: 16th – 22nd October around the world
  • Safer Gambling Week: 13th – 19th November in the UK
  • Women’s Gambling Harm Prevention Campaign

What to look out for

Many people do not realise they have or are developing a problem, but looking at early warning signs, can help identify concerns earlier. 

Initial signs of harm:

  • Having less time or money to spend on recreation and family
  • Reduced savings
  • Increased consumption of alcohol
  • Feelings of guilt or regret
  • Advanced signs of harm:
  • Relationship conflict
  • Reduced work or study performance
  • Financial difficulties
  • Anger
  • Feelings of shame and hopelessness

If left un-noticed or unchecked, these harms can escalate or lead to more severe harms which can lead to mental health issues and even suicide. 

Young people and the affects of gambling and gaming

Young people can be affected in several ways: as under-age gamblers themselves, as addicted gamers, or as part of the fallout from family members who have problem gambling habits. The growth of the internet and online gambling sites means that most people can access these sites. The Government have set up the National Centre to help young people with behavioural addictions at The National Centre for Children and Young People’s Behavioural Addictions.

It is therefore important to be vigilant and alert to changes in behaviour, and attitudes at all times, as part of an effective safeguarding culture. 

Where to get help

Many charities and support groups offer free, confidential support to people who are gambling, and to their friends and family. We have listed a few below.

The National Gambling Helpline (run by GamCare) runs a free, 24/7 helpline for information, support and counselling. Telephone: 0808 8020 133

GambleAware – a national gambling support network service

GamLearn – a network service for gambling lived experience and recovery 

Gamblers Anonymous – a local support group service that uses a 12-step approach to recovery

Citizens Advice Bureau – a charity that can advise on a range of issues, including finances

What to do in your setting about gambling awareness

Since many gambling issues relate to older children and adults, many interventions are not directly aimed at the children. However, you can still help them by reaching out to families or staff affected by problem gambling:

  • Raising gambling awareness generally
  • Fundraise for a related charity
  • Encouraging open discussions with employees
  • Restricting websites – KCSIE 2023 focuses on filtering and monitoring systems in educational establishments, so it is important that you have these in place and imperative you have identified people who are responsible for these

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