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PONDER STORY

What have you got to lose?

Few would disagree that this magazine does a good job of promoting gambling as an exciting and fun pastime – but always in moderation, at stakes you can afford. We’d never endorse betting big with reckless abandon, or chasing your losses. And so with this in mind, we decided to give GamCare chief executive Andy McLellan a platform to explain just what the national gambling charity can do for you if you’re worried that you (or those close to you) are developing a gambling problem. You’d be amazed how easy it is to get help

Chasing their losses, not being able to leave the table or leave the game. Thinking about the last bet or the next bet all the time. Telling friends and family that they’ve won when they’ve lost. Sound like someone you know?

These can be some of the early signs that gambling is becoming a problem. The problem gambler might borrow to gamble more, lie about how much they’re gambling and try repeatedly to stop but fail. All too quickly things spiral out of control.

Most of us can have a flutter, enjoy the buzz and walk away, perhaps with some winnings in our pocket and at least having spent only what we can afford. For a small minority, however, gambling can have disastrous effects on the rest of their lives – but they just can’t stop.

According to the Gambling Commission’s last two prevalence surveys, there are around 250,000 to 285,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain at any one time. More men than women are at risk of becoming problem gamblers. Young people and those from certain ethnic minorities can be particularly at risk.

We can all have periods when we are vulnerable because of personal circumstances: for instance money worries, family, relationship or work difficulties. While gambling may appear to be a way of escaping them, in the long run it’s more likely to add to the problems than help solve them.

It’s good to know that there is a national charity with a range of support that can really help. GamCare, the leading provider of advice, support and treatment, has services online, by phone and face-to-face. We offer national telephone and online helplines, an online forum and chat rooms, and counselling sessions with a qualified and experienced therapist, face-to-face locally or online.

GamCare is funded largely by the British gambling industry through a complex arrangement. Funds are raised by the Gambling Research, Education and Treatment charity, or GREaT Foundation, through voluntary donations from companies large and small. It is encouraging to note that donations are received not only from those operating gambling businesses but also from affiliates and other related industries benefitting from gambling.

The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, chaired by Baroness Neuberger, considers the strategic priorities for how the money will be spent on research, prevention, education and treatment. Finally, the Responsible Gambling Fund distributes the funds raised to researchers, education and treatment providers such as GamCare. GamCare is the major beneficiary of the system and the leading provider throughout Great Britain.

GamCare’s online helpline, forum and chat rooms are available at gamcare.org.uk. Our helpline number is 0845 6000 133.

Anyone calling our national helplines will be talking to an experienced and specifically trained adviser. Advisers won’t judge – but they will listen. We know that it’s taken a lot of courage to give us that call. They explore the needs of each individual caller and what might work best for that person, signposting to the most appropriate services. In 2009 advisers signposted almost 20 percent of callers to GamCare face-to-face and online counselling, 12 percent to Gamblers Anonymous or Gam-Anon and over four percent to National Debtline and other agencies. In most cases callers are given more than one option – one person might, for instance, go on to face-to-face counselling, use our forum and attend GA groups, while getting help with managing their debts.

Importantly, GamCare’s services are for family members too. Usually suffering the impacts of debt and its consequent stress, they can be holding the family together without any outside support. The shame of admitting that there’s a problem in the family, and that there is debt, can stop them from talking to anyone. But partners, parents, siblings and children are often the ones who call us first and then, with our guidance, encourage their loved one to get in touch.

So, how do you make sure you keep your gambling under control? Thinking you have the winning system is a sure way of losing long term. We know that irrational thinking about odds and the probability of winning are often characteristics of the problem gambler. If you can kid yourself that you have found a fool-proof way to win back all that you’ve lost, then you can justify another throw of the dice, and another, because that one big win that will be the answer to all your problems is just around the corner. Of course, if this were the case then the industry would be on its knees.

These days there are strict regulations governing betting and gaming and in 2009 the gambling industry in Great Britain turned over more than £84 billion. This doesn’t take into account the online operators based overseas: most gambling websites British players are using are licensed abroad. So, it doesn’t make economic sense that one individual can eventually recoup all his losses by continuing to gamble. Gambling is spending money on entertainment. Like going for a meal or to the cinema, you’re spending money to enjoy the pleasure or excitement during that period of time. Walking away with a win is a bonus.

The easiest way to stay in control is to set yourself limits on how much money or time you’ll spend gambling. Whatever you spend should be disposable income – money you can afford to lose. The minute you place that bet you’re giving that money away.

GamCare also works with the industry to ensure that their staff understand problem gambling behaviour and that the right measures are in place, both online and on land, to help gamblers to gamble responsibly. We help through our training and consultancy services, and we also certificate operators who reach our standards.

In 2009 we signposted almost 11 percent of callers to self-exclusion and 10 percent to blocking software. The industry would rather keep its customers than lose players because their gambling has got out of control. For that reason, socially responsible operators do put in place ways to set yourself limits on spend and clocks to remind you of the time you’ve spent. They check players’ ages and ID and adhere to codes of practice for both advertising and protecting players. If you’re gambling online, because so many operators are not UK-licensed, the best way of making sure you’re gambling with a responsible company is to look for the GamCare Certification logo. It should link through to more information about what that company has had to do to earn Certification. You can also find an up-to-date list of all GamCare Certified companies on our website at tinyurl.com/yavofao.

So the message is gamble responsibly, spend only what you can afford and stick to the limits you set yourself. That way you’ll enjoy playing and your gambling will remain a game. If you need any advice about how to stay in control, give GamCare a call by phone or online. If you’ve reached a stage where you don’t feel you can talk to anyone, remember that our advisers are there to listen and help, completely in confidence – every day we talk to people who’ve got into difficulties with their gambling. We know what you’ve got to lose, and we can help.

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