Disordered gamblers lose significant amounts of money and are seen as highly valuable and very profitable to the gambling companies. Often, they will be signed up to VIP schemes and assigned specialised account managers who have the authority to offer incentives to players such as free bets or tickets to sporting events. They are marketed as ‘rewards’ for loyalty but are viewed by many as a way of keeping people gambling beyond their means. There has been much controversy surrounding the use of VIP schemes by the gambling industry.
The Gambling Commission reported in January 2020 that whilst just 2% of customers at nine leading operators were VIPs, they actually accounted for 83% of deposits. Recent reforms now mean that gamblers under the age of 25 will be banned from joining VIP schemes in the UK whilst those permitted to join will be subject to new controls. MP, Carolyn Harris, is amongst many that have called for all VIP schemes to be banned and observes “how completely reliant the industry is on people with gambling problems and that they are profiteering from them”.
There is a common theme amongst disordered gamblers - once they have spent their own money, they will look to finance their gambling through other means. This may start with borrowing from family and friends and once this avenue has been exhausted loans and historically credit cards (since April 2020, credit cards cannot be used to finance gambling). As the losses mount up, more unconventional methods such as high interest ‘pay day’ loans or similar are used. In more extreme cases, the disordered gambler will steal from families, friends and employers resulting in a criminal record and prison sentence for some.
The term ‘rock bottom’ describes the point at which the disordered gambler realises that all other attempts to try and address the issue have failed and is finally able to admit there is a problem and seek help. Sadly, this does not apply to all, and every year in the UK there are a reported 250 to 650 gambling-related suicides. It is critical that we raise awareness of the dangers associated with gambling and that certain types of gambling are more addictive than others. For example, online gambling and particularly casino-style games are said to be three times more addictive with online slot machines notoriously being dubbed the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling.
There are also growing concerns relating to the number of female problem gamblers with this demographic reportedly growing at a faster rate than their male counterparts. A recent report highlighted that almost 70% of female gamblers do so via apps and websites as opposed to using bookmakers and arcades. Therefore, it is crucial that this demographic is able to access help and support.