Baffling, cunning and confusing addictive thinking ruins lives.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Escape from gambling hell | Money | The Guardian

This article is included to make the point that all addictions are somewhat similar,  whether the addiction is to a substance or to some thrilling or exciting compulsive behavior.

Escape from gambling hell | Money | The Guardian


Escape from gambling hell

As high street betting shops and internet roulette claim ever more victims, some of the gamers who have beaten the odds in a struggle with addiction. 
 Gambling addicts:

There are an estimated 450,000 "problem gamblers" in the UK, according to the most recent
British Gambling Prevalence Survey.

And the numbers are rising – up from 0.6% of the population in 2007 to 0.9% in 2010, according to one measure. A further 3.5 million people were categorised as "at-risk" gamblers.

And GamCare, an industry funded body that provides support to problem gamblers, told a parliamentary select committee last year that 2% of 12 to 15-year-olds are addicted to gambling.

Betting shops are proliferating in the country's poorest areas. 

Betting shops are classed as financial and professional services alongside estate agents and banks, meaning they can open up in any building that previously housed such organisations without planning permission. 

The rise in the number of betting shops is being driven by a new breed of gambling machines: fixed odds betting terminals. People can bet £100 a spin every 20 seconds on these virtual roulette machines.

Dubbed the crack cocaine of the betting industry, the terminals account for almost half of betting shops' profits, and there are thought to be at least 32,000 in the UK, or one machine per 1,500 adults.

"The new gaming machine tax on fixed odds betting terminals proves that the government is addicted to the problem gamblers' losses," a Grasp spokesman says.

"These machines offer high stakes and high-speed play never seen before on our high streets. 
You can lose £18,000 an hour without being asked a question. 
They're the perfect vehicle to fuel problem gambling."

The internet has also provided problem gamblers with a new platform to pursue their addiction in secret. According to the Gambling Commission, 9.8% of people gamble online, up from 5.2% in 2006.

Phil Mawer  has written a self-help book for problem gamblers, Overcoming Gambling, detailing the methods that helped him stop
His last bet, in a casino at Frankfurt airport on 11 August 2006, is a moment he describes as his "rock bottom".

Years before, Mawer's wife had suspected he was having affair but, in reality, it was his secret gambling that was forcing him to sneak around in the manner of an cheating husband.

"Everything you'd be trying to do if you were disguising a relationship is what you do as a gambler," says Mawer, who admits he spent up to nine hours a day gambling online.

"You've got highs and lows and you try to disguise that – you become inattentive, over-attentive when you're trying to cover up. You become emotionally barren as you have to cover the wins and the losses."

'Gambling is an illness, not merely a compulsion'

Two-thirds of patients treated at the UK's first specialist problem gambling clinic have indicated that controversial fixed odds betting terminals encouraged their addiction.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, who set up the NHS National Problem Gambling Clinic in London in 2008, says, society needs to recognise gambling is a fully fledged addiction rather than a mere compulsion. She hopes changing people's perception of the illness will stimulate extra funding.

"It's difficult for people to understand the severity of the illness unless they come into contact with patients. We have 2,000 files of people who have been referred to us. For example, they have lost their home, or their parents' home, through gambling," Bowden-Jones she says. "Many of them have broken marriages and have been separated from their children, lost their jobs or ended up in prison because of the gambling."
"The fact that gambling is a hidden addiction works to the detriment of the pathological gambler because sometimes problems have gone so far with the gambler being able to hide the addiction, that by the time people pick up the problems it is an extremely serious addiction with people feeling suicidal. They don't want to live any more because it's a negative reality where they have no job, and no contact with friends because they've tried to borrow money and people have disowned them. They have no spouse, they've lost touch with their parents, they have no home."

She says prisoners have written to her begging for treatment on the day of their release, indicating they will re-offend otherwise.

"Illegal activities among our patients are quite high. These are people who have an addiction and then steal money because they want to fund more gambling. The statistics are quite high – 40%, 50% of gamblers have committed illegal acts," she says. "I really believe one of the things we should be doing, which we've started at the clinic, is to educate the criminal justice system to the fact that this is an illness and it needs to be taken into account when people end up in court."

While gambling addiction is largely viewed as a male problem, roughly 10% of the clinic's patients are female.

Professor Jim Orford, a leading expert on problem gambling at the University of Birmingham, thinks the ease of internet gambling poses a particular threat to women. "It's something you don't have to go out of the house to do, so women who stay at home are certainly at risk."

Orford is also highly critical of fixed odds betting terminals, and backs the High Streets First campaign. "The kind of games you play on them are not your old fruit machine games – these are casino-type games of a kind that used to be confined to casinos. Now, here they are on the high street. By their very nature, I'm not surprised they combine all the features you would expect that make gambling particularly dangerous."

Orford, who is launching a campaign group, Gambling Watch UK, thinks Tony Blair's government lifted the lid on gambling. "As a country we were really quite restrained about gambling. It wasn't advertised, it wasn't encouraged – it was a bit of a dirty word among most people. 

Then the national lottery came and made a difference. It got gambling advertised in a big way, and all the other gambling firms got together and asked for a level playing field so they could be advertised themselves. I think there has been an enormous rise in gambling and an enormous rise in the accessibility. Attitudes are changing slowly and we really should be worried about it."