It’s all fun and games, until the debt starts mounting, your family falls apart and you find yourself in emotional ruins. Although the vast majority of people manage to gamble responsibly, for a small number of gamblers, it becomes a problem. The thrill of gambling can easily become addictive, and playing online and on mobile devices makes it even easier to spend more time and money on games than one really ought to. In such cases, self-exclusion is a good way to curb unhealthy gambling behaviour and this guide will tell you all there is to know about it.
In this guide…
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- Problem Gambling
- A Comprehensive Action Plan to Tackle Problem Gambling
- Useful Links
With remote gambling becoming more and more popular, increasing numbers of people stake bets via their computers, mobile phones and tablets from the comfort of their own homes. For the most part this is good news, but the relative privacy of remote gambling also makes it extremely hard – if not impossible – to identify pathological gamblers. So what can be classed as irresponsible gambling and how to spot a pathological gambler? This section of the guide answers those questions.
When does gambling become a problem?
The UK Gambling Commission reports that in England and Scotland, 65% of the adult population have gambled in the past year. Of those people, the vast majority of people who gamble online do so for fun, entertainment and relaxation. They know their limits and are able to stick to them, never spending more money than they could lose and not jeopardising their relationships by gambling for very long periods of time.
However, the Gambling Commission estimates that between one and four percent of gamblers are ‘problem gamblers’. Problem gambling can be defined as gambling that interrupts or damages the personal and social life of someone. In other words, it harms both the person who has lost control of their gambling habit and those around them; including friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. So, if someone falls greatly into debt, starts committing crime to get more money, or gets depressed about their gambling situation, chances are they are a problem gambler.
No research to date has been able to identify what causes someone to become a problem gambler, and the demographic of problem gamblers is very broad. One’s gender, age, ethnicity and other socioeconomic factors don’t really matter, as the addiction can affect anyone. This public health issue is further complicated by the fact that gambling addiction is invisible; unlike alcohol or drug addiction, gambling addiction leaves no physical evidence. So how large is the problem?
The size of the problem
Upon first glance, the estimation of problem gamblers can appear to be small: 0.5% of adults in England and Scotland are classed as problem gamblers. However, a further 1% of all adults are classed as at-risk gamblers, whose behaviour is showing signs of gambling addiction and unhealthy behaviour. This means that a combined total of around 700,000 adults in England and Scotland are at-risk of becoming or already are problem gamblers.
The prevalence of online and mobile gambling appears to have exacerbated the problem slightly and the numbers of problem gamblers appears to be rising on a year-on-year basis, according to GamCare, the main gambling addiction support organisation in the UK. In their last published study, they’ve identified that the number of calls they’ve received from problem gamblers increased by 34% and the number of people in treatment increased by 20%.
Spotting signs of addiction
If you think you could be a problem gambler or simply want to see how safe your gambling is, take the test by GamCare. Also, take a look at this list of statements to see if you are showing signs of high-risk gambling. If you can positively agree with nearly every statement on this list, self-exclusion should be the next step that you take.
- You are secretive about your gambling with your family and friends, and lie about how much money and time you spend whilst gambling
- You fall behind at work and hope that you will soon catch up, although that never happens
- You promise yourself to stop gambling, but never manage to actually stop
- You cannot control the size of the bets that you place, until you spend the very last penny in your account
- Your studies have suffered because of your gambling
- You return and gamble some more after you get a big win
- You try to gamble some more to chase your losses
- You borrow or steal money to sustain your gambling habit
- You are in debt because of your gambling
- You sell your and your family’s possessions to get more money to play with
- You ‘forget’ to physically take care of yourself and/or family members because of gambling
- You avoid spending money on ‘unessential things’, such as food or bills, to spend that money on gambling instead
- You gamble to escape the feeling of worry, frustration or trouble
- You feel hopeless, depressed or even suicidal because of your gambling
- You don’t think you have a gambling problem, i.e. you are in denial
Now that we’ve established what problem gambling is, one of the formal and most prescribed ways to try and tackle it is self-exclusion. The UK Gambling Commission maintains that “gambling benefits a lot of people a little and harms a few people a lot”. It is for those few people in harm’s way that self-exclusion is an absolute necessity. So far, it’s also the only formal and enforceable measure to tackle problem gambling and strengthen the social responsibility of remote casinos. This section will explain what self exclusion is, how it works, and will look into whether it is effective in solving or at least alleviating the problem at hand.
What is self-exclusion and when is it necessary?
You may have set yourself daily deposit limits or started timing your remote gambling sessions. Both of these measures are great to control your gambling, so that it doesn’t have any unwanted consequences, such as spending your entire pay check in just one session or spending an entire weekend gambling. However, self-exclusion is a more formal way to prevent problem gambling, and arguably more successful too.
If you think you are at risk of problem gambling, or you already are a problem gambler and feel that things are getting out of control, you can simply ask the casino operator to refuse your wagers for a set period of time or even permanently. Although it is a process that the player must initiate themselves, all remote gambling operators licensed by the UK Gambling Commission must offer the facilities for self-exclusion. They must also have staff working for them, trained in spotting the subtle yet tell-tale signs that someone’s gambling is getting out of hand.
In other words, self-exclusion is a form of voluntary pre-commitment – when you ask the casino to stop taking your money, you are forced to stop gambling too. This is a good way to promote a safe and controlled environment to restrict one’s gambling and tackle gambling addiction, if the person him or herself is unable to control their gambling on their own and need a little help. Overall, the notion of self-exclusion has become quite common and will most likely continue to be introduced in new gambling venues, both offline and online.
How does it work?
There are various measures of self-exclusion in brick-and-mortar casinos, but this guide isn’t about that. We imagine it would be easier if there was someone physically preventing you from betting and gambling in a shop, but with mobile devices, it’s that much harder. Although it was legally unenforceable to demand that a remote casino operator provides the self-exclusion facility, from May 2015, it will be, because the wording in the Gambling Commission’s Code of Practise will be changed from “[…] should provide self-exclusion facilities […]” to “[…] must provide self-exclusion facilities […]”.
Here is how self-exclusion works. First, you must proactively seek to self-exclude – no one can or should do it for you. If you have identified yourself as having a gambling problem and wish to self-exclude, every casino website should offer the facility for you to do so, probably on their responsible gambling page or via your account page. You will most likely have to tick a box to indicate that you understand what self-exclusion is and what the consequences are of you entering into a self-exclusion contract. Namely, the casino will refuse their services to you and will prevent you from gambling during a set period of time.
If you gamble remotely, i.e. on your phone, tablet or computer at home, you must self-exclude from every single casino that you are registered with, one by one. That’s alright if you only have a small handful of casinos that you play in, but it can become quite a hassle to try and close every account if you have a dozen of them. A new, national self-exclusion database is proposed by the UK Gambling Commission, but it probably won’t reach fruition until 2017. It will make it very easy to self-exclude from all online and mobile casinos at once and prevent you from being able to sign up for new accounts.
There is no cooling-off period when you self-exclude. In other words, the self-exclusion comes into effect immediately and you cannot change your mind. Also, your name will be removed from all mailing, marketing and promotional lists and databases to ensure that your gambling problem isn’t being aggravated and your progress of fighting the addiction isn’t hindered. And what happens to the money you still may have had in your account? It will quite simply be refunded back to your bank account whilst your casino account remains disabled.
You can choose for what period of time you wish to self-exclude, but at the end of this period, self-exclusion will remain in place for a minimum of seven years, as established by the Code of Practise of the UK Gambling Commission. This seven year period of continuation can be prevented or reversed if you contact the casino and take positive action to gamble again. However, if you do that, there is a cooling-off period of one day set aside just in case you change your mind. Even then, you will not be getting any marketing material or any other information that would incentivise you to gamble, making it easier to manage your gambling and play in a responsible manner.
How effective is self-exclusion?
On one hand, self-exclusion is the only formal tool that an individual can use to help themselves tackle problem gambling. Removing oneself from the situation where gambling is possible, i.e. having a casino account to play with, certainly works on some level and the intentions of self-exclusion are definitely good. The Responsible Gambling Trust has evidence that suggests self-exclusion has a substantial positive effect on the financial, social and emotional wellbeing of the person affected, even if they do breach the agreement at some point.
On the other hand, the system is not only fiddly and very time-consuming, but it also has one major flaw that can hinder any positive progress. Individuals who have self-excluded from a handful of casinos can simply visit a website of a different casino anywhere in the world, register and resume gambling, all in just a moment of weakness. And with more and more online and mobile casinos appearing every day, the temptation is just around the next corner. This will only be averted when the universal self-exclusion database is created in a few years, making multi-operator self-exclusion possible.
So, while some support self-exclusion as a useful way to curb unhealthy gambling and minimise all gambling related harm, others think that the abstinence treats the symptoms rather than deals with the cause of problem gambling itself. In any case, self-exclusion is better than nothing when battling with gambling addiction, but researchers say that it’s not used as often as it could be by those in trouble. It might all have to do with self-control of those individuals, which is lacking in the first place.
Self-exclusion will not be effective when someone doesn’t want to or cannot comply, but it will be useful to those who have genuinely recognised their problem and want to seek help. In other words, one cannot apply for self-exclusion and think that from there on in it’s the responsibility of the online or the mobile casino to keep him or her from playing. For example, many people in the past have sued brick-and-mortar casinos for allowing them to gamble and lose excessive amounts of money whilst under self-exclusion measures – see the case study for an example.
Blaming the casino if one breaches the self-exclusion measures isn’t fair or justified. This measure is effective only when the individual takes responsibility for their own actions, acknowledges it’s their problem and tries to fix it. Self-exclusion cannot be said to be wholly effective because it’s not a complete solution. Limiting the length of one’s sessions or setting up limits on weekly deposits can be equally as effective in some cases, because at least one remains in a safe and controlled gambling environment rather than registering on illegal gambling websites just to bypass the standing self-exclusion. Yet, it is the most important to realise that self-exclusion isn’t effective on its own and one must have a comprehensive action plan to deal with problem gambling.
Is self-exclusion avoidable?
Simply put – we think so. Self-exclusion can be seen as the last resort when other things don’t work or make your gambling problem even worse. There are various socially responsible gambling management tools that most casinos offer, which you can try before opting to self-exclude.
- Session time limits – as straightforward as it sounds, session time limits can be set at many casinos. The aim of setting yourself such a limit is to pre-determine the maximum time that you can spend at the casino at any one sitting. So if your problem and the biggest lapse in self-control occurs because you simply cannot get away from the casino’s page, your session will time out and you won’t be able to gamble for a set amount of time. There is also an option for sessions to time out so that you can take a necessary break. You can change your session time limits at any time, but they don’t change it immediately, so that you aren’t tempted to extend your session by just that half hour more and lose money.
- Deposit/loss limits – this is probably one of the most favourite ways to curb excessive gambling and if you notice that your gambling is starting to become unhealthy, then take advantage of setting yourself a financial limit. These come in different shapes and sizes – some casinos allow you to limit the money that you deposit per a set period of time, others automatically prevent you from gambling any further if you’ve reached your maximum loss limit. This management tool is great for when you want to control the amount of money that you spend at casinos to make sure that you have enough left over to pay your bills. As with the session time limits, financial limits can be altered, but it won’t take effect immediately to prevent you from irrationally losing money you probably can’t afford to lose.
- Reality check – once in a while, a pop-up window will appear that will inform you of the amount of time that you’ve been gambling and also the amount of money that you’ve staked during the session. Although not all casinos have this feature, it is extremely handy to keep track of your spending in terms of both money and time. It’s so easy to lose track, so if the numbers that you are faced with during the ‘reality check’ appear daunting, stop gambling right at that moment.
- Account history – if none of the above tools are offered by the casino that you frequent, you can always access the history of your deposits and withdrawals. This can be handy when you want to check how much you spend gambling per month, quarter or every year and make changes in your habits accordingly.
A Comprehensive Action Plan to Tackle Problem Gambling
As the previous section of the guide highlighted and explained, self-exclusion is a formal measure, designed to help those who are struggling with controling their gambling behaviour. However, it certainly shouldn’t be the only thing relied upon. Therefore, we explore other alternatives that can help you tackle the problem at hand, and we’ve also drawn up an action plan that you can refer to if you think you are having issues with your gambling.
Is self-exclusion enough?
We don’t think that self-exclusion offers enough help when your gambling habits land you in hot water, and you definitely shouldn’t over-rely on it. This is especially the case if your gambling problems are combined with other issues as well. As research shows, there are links between gambling problems and alcohol or drug abuse, and problem gamblers are also more at risk of depression and suicide.
It’s best to tackle all these problems together by getting counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy or even trying hypnotherapy. A combined approach will work the best and many organisations such as GamCare can provide you with support and guidance in how and where to get help. And if all else fails, or if you just want to remove all of temptation, then using software which prevents your computer from accessing gambling sites can be a good choice. Programmes such as Cyber Patrol, Gamblock and Netnanny can all do the job, but for a fee.
All or nothing – an action plan
- The most important step you can take is to accept the fact that you need help with your gambling.
- Self-exclude from all the online and mobile casinos that you have accounts with; don’t leave any avenues open for yourself to start gambling again.
- If you are hesitant to self-exclude, check the history of your account at every casino and see how much money you’ve lost. It might give you the determination to continue with the self-exclusions.
- Tell a close friend or a family member about your gambling problem and come clean to anyone whom you’ve lied to about your gambling. This problem is easier tackled together and not just by yourself.
- Find out what triggered your gambling most often and replace those triggers with healthy behaviour:
- If you gambled to get a rush of adrenaline, then try a sport
- If you gambled to be more social, then join a social group, volunteer or simply spend more time with your family and friends
- If you gambled to get away from it all, then try therapy and counselling
- If you gambled because you were bored, find a hobby that you’d be passionate about
- If you gambled to relax, then try exercising, meditation, taichi, yoga or breathing techniques
- If you gambled to earn more money, seek help from a financial advisor instead; when you gamble, the odds are against you to begin with
- Avoid any gambling related situations so that you don’t trigger self-destructive behaviour again, so no poker with friends on a Friday night!
- Also avoid drinking or using other substances to make sure you judgment isn’t impaired, making it that much easier for you to relapse.
- You can try hypnotherapy, which is often times hugely successful in helping you kick the habit. Hypnotherapy Directory offers the service of finding a hypnotherapist specialising in treating gambling addiction in your area.
- If you are successful and kick your problem gambling habit, have a little celebration by doing things you like to do, but don’t involve any of the triggers that could cause a relapse.
- And if you have the time and the willpower, campaign to bring about the universal self-exclusion database that is only in the very preliminary planning stages. You will not only see a purpose for yourself, but will also help other people who are dealing with problem gambling.
When you are better…
When your self-exclusion period is finished and you think you’ve got your gambling habit back in control, you may wish to gamble again. However, make sure that you do so very carefully. First, set yourself limits in terms of how much money you can spend gambling per week and how many hours you should play games for – it’s very easy to lose track of both. Second, take breaks often and balance gambling with other hobbies and activities that you enjoy to make sure that gambling doesn’t consume all of you again.
Third, remember your unhealthy gambling triggers and avoid those, whether it is drinking, boredom or feeling depressed. Keep the GamCare’s gambling helpline number at hand and be proactive about making sure you are forming healthy gambling habits. Finally, never chase your losses and remember that the odds are against you to begin with. Treat gambling as going to cinema, paying for experience and entertainment rather than an activity to generate an income. And if all else fails and you go back to your problem gambling habits, self-exclusion and combined therapy is the best way forth!
Online and mobile casinos must point you towards the direction of counselling and support services, so you will often find links to specific organisations on casino sites. However, here is a comprehensive list of resources that you can use to tackle unhealthy gambling. Get help if you think you have a problem.
- Gamble Aware – aims to promote responsible gambling, offers information about understanding and recognising problem gambling and has resources to help those who are problem gamblers. Gamble Aware is funded and run by Responsible Gambling Trust
- Responsible Gambling Trust – a national charity that conducts research, educates people and offers problem gambling treatment activities
- GamCare – the main support organisation in the UK that runs the National Gambling Helpline (freephone 0808 8020 133), NetLine (webchat), face-to-face and online counselling; there are also forums and chat rooms where you can seek support
- CNWL National Problem Gambling Clinic – the only specialist NHS clinic for the treatment for problem gamblers in London; English and Welsh patients can self-refer to receive help there
- Gamblers Anonymous – an organisation that tries to tackle problem gambling by hosting local meetings, using a similar twelve-step approach as the Alcoholics Anonymous do; there are also support group meetings for family and relatives of compulsive gamblers
- Gambling Therapy – a global online support service for people who self-identify as problem gamblers, offering advice via e-mail, forums and online groups