Friday, June 21, 2024

What does gambling addiction look like?

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The UK’s Gambling Commission, responsible for regulating the industry in this country, recently announced that it was making changes to “give people the opportunity to gamble safely, while protecting people from gambling-related harm.” The plans – which were set out in a white paper – include a mandatory levy on betting firms to pay for treatment of addiction, and new player protection checks to catch erratic betting activity. I’ll hear more about these proposals from a representative of the industry later on. But first, what is it like when gambling takes hold of your life? A “harmless” evening out launched Bianca Colclough down a slippery slope into a gambling addiction…

Bianca – I’ve never been somebody that’s been particularly interested in gambling in any form. My first experience of gambling wasn’t actually a choice that I made. I’d actually been on a night out with a good friend of mine, and we were having so much fun that we didn’t want the night to end. And the only place that was open in my local town was the casino. I sat and watched him and was absolutely flabbergasted. I just found the whole thing really, really interesting. The fact that he’d been able to just put 20 pounds into a machine and then suddenly it was turning it into something else, I felt compelled to want to do the same. And as with so many other people who have experienced gambling addiction – they start their story the same way – of course, I won. So that 20 pounds became 100.

James – So far it sounds like the experience of many people, those who are able to gamble without it becoming a problem. What started to happen to make you think that something was different about your experience with gambling?

Bianca – I’d say initially I didn’t because, I suppose, when you are still classing yourself as a social gambler, you’re not seeing it as a problem because you’re not spending outside of your means. You’re not going into debt because of it, you’re feeling the rush of it as something that’s part of an enjoyment. But as time goes by, you start to up the stakes, you start to spend more time in the casinos. When you start to live outside of your means and you start to actually take out loans and you start to actually get into debt because of it, that’s when I realised it was then becoming the problem. But by that time I was too far in and I couldn’t get out of the problem. I was a fully fledged addict. There’s an element of isolation that I chose because, being in a casino, you are isolated and you’re sat in front of a machine, so there really isn’t anybody else to share that you’re struggling with.

James – Bianca, do you mind me asking how much you were losing?

Bianca – In the worst, darkest moments, I know I’d lost around 1000 pounds a week. It’s the addiction and that sort of trapped cycle that you get yourself into where you feel you literally can’t stop going. The money I was winning, I was still choosing to put it back into the machines when I actually could have been recognising that that was money that I could be using to pay off my debt or I could be using with my family, etc. I never really had an exact figure but I know, when I actually was too far gone, it was just under 30,000 pounds that I was in debt.

James – It’s a vast sum of money. I imagine one of the hardest parts of this was the fact that you were keeping it a secret from the people close to you, your friends and family?

Bianca – Absolutely. Because gambling doesn’t cause a physical symptom it’s very easy for us as gamblers to spend a horrible amount of money and have the real depths of low, of losing. But then what I would have to do is drive home, and my husband at the time would come home from work, I would make his dinner, I would sit and ask him about his day. We would chat and he’d ask me about my day and I’d say I’d been busy, I’d been to work – and I hadn’t done any of those things. I’ve been sat in the casino. So the deceit is the thread that runs through all of it. That, on top of the fact that you are losing money, you’re also becoming a version of yourself that really isn’t very nice. It’s very, very difficult for people to understand, and that is why people do typically keep it a secret.

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