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  • Cost of Gambling by Lucy Holmes

    Yesterday my story was posted on Lucy Holmes’ website ‘Cost of Gambling.’ Lucy is a trainee journalist, and in February 2021, Cost of Gambling will launch its first radio documentary exploring gambling addictions. In the meantime, I believe that she is uploading stories and other content up onto the website. To read my story, click here.

  • Match Sponsors for Billericay Town U23’s

    The All Bets Are Off podcast was proud to match sponsors for Billericay Town U23’s Essex Senior League Reserve Division fixture against Hashtag United Reserves earlier today. Over the past week-and-a-half, Billericay Town Football Club has been raising awareness of gambling-related harm across their social media channels. This campaign has included sharing information about the podcast and several specially selected partners. ABAO were due to be match sponsors for the fixture between Billericay’s first-team and Chelmsford City earlier in the week, but, unfortunately, due to a positive coronavirus test, the game was postponed. On the plus side, this meant that Chris and I were able to attend the match that we later became sponsors of. The Ricky ran out 6-1 winners, and we awarded our Man of the Match to Louis Dunwell (as pictured below). The central-midfielder was a deserved winner scoring an exquisite 35-yard lob and assisting two further goals in what turned into a drubbing by the home side. Both Chris and I would like to thank Billericay Town for their hospitality. With special praise going to co-owner Nick Hutt and club photographer Nicky Hayes.

  • WIRED: "The pandemic has triggered a British online gambling crisis"

    Link to WIRED article It was late January when Google searches for “casinos” reached an all-time high in the UK. And that was before the coronavirus pandemic hit, and sent the gambling industry’s revenue spiralling downward. But as spending in casinos and betting sites dropped to zero during the first lockdown, online slots, poker, casino gaming, and virtual sports saw a significant increase. Data collected from the Gambling Commission (the British body responsible for gambling regulation) showed that in March, online virtual sports betting increased by 88 per cent and online poker by 53 per cent compared to the same month in 2019. The pandemic hit a country that was already home to big gamblers. A House of Lords report titled “Gambling Harm – Time for Action” published in July 2020 found that half the adults in the UK gamble at least once a month. A third of a million of UK citizens are “problem” or “disordered” gamblers. It is estimated that for each problem gambler, six other people – a total of two million – are harmed by the breakup of families, crime, loss of employment, loss of homes and, ultimately, loss of life. Kishan Patel, a fifth-year medical student at Imperial College and CEO of TalkGEN CIC, a non-profit focused on gambling harm, is one of them. “My dad was a gambler and passed away with it seven years ago. I still live with the effects of that and the effects this had on my mum, who is still paying for a mortgage that went up massively because of his addiction.” Patel wants the issue to be taken seriously. “We need to start seeing this gambling crisis as a health problem,” he says. Lockdowns, however, not only pushed gambling further into the online sphere. They also made people suffering from gambling addiction, those at risk of developing one, and those in recovery more vulnerable. Tony Parente, a 41-year-old British man, belongs to the latter group. He was nine years old when his grandfather asked him to pick a horse for him. Later, when he was a teenager, gambling became a social activity he would share with friends at betting shops – at least that’s what Parente told himself. Whenever he won, everyone – his grandfather, his friends – kept telling him that he was very lucky. But like most gambling stories, Parente’s lucky streak soon came to an end. “It quickly escalated from being a social activity to something that took over everything.” His relationship with gambling, Parente says, is the longest he ever had. But, it was also one that shattered his real-life ties with friends and family. He went from working hard and being good at his job as a manager for a car company to leaving for Dubai in 2010 in an attempt to escape gambling. After backsliding yet again, and coming back to England in 2016, Parente started to struggle with suicidal thoughts. “I asked my sister for £70 to get a train ticket to see my mum. I needed help. But instead I walked past a betting shop and spent the money there, even though I was in debt and had lost my family, my home, my business, and more importantly my sanity,” Parente recalls. “Looking back it was the best £70 I ever spent because losing them made me realise my addiction would kill me.” At the time when Parente needed help, he could still benefit from social support. But according to the psychologists, operators from gambling companies, and affected problem gamblers we talked to for this article, lockdown has made everyday life particularly dangerous for gamblers at risk. Working from home, constant access to the internet, readily available triggers like alcohol and drugs, and a feeling of isolation or helplessness contributed to an increasing number of people turning to and intensifying their presence on online casinos and betting websites. Today, three years later, Parente is in recovery and has become an outspoken activist on the issue. “If I was still gambling now, I would have gambled more and used it to escape,” Parente says. “I know that if I had been less secure in my recovery, this would have been a particularly risky time for me,” says Kerri Nicholls, another former gambler. On the GamCare Forum, an online message board providing a space for users to share experiences about problem gambling, a user expressed similar worries. “The Covid-19 and the work from home situation, I’ve basically hit a downward spiral again,” they wrote. “However, this time it’s on the online slots. They say it’s one of the worst forms of betting because it’s ultimately a game designed simply to rip us whilst enticing us with its dazzling game play and catchy music, yet those hooked still go back time and time again.” someone else replied: “I can totally relate, the last two months have been very stressful and I found myself chasing the bonus games on slots for the possible big win.” The Gordon Moody Association, a group that helps gambling addicts, told the BBC that in May the interactions on their helpline had more than tripled, and they had a 20-person waiting list for their residential treatment programme aimed at people with a gambling addiction – something unheard of in the organisation’s experience. Dominik Batthyany, a psychotherapist and head of the Institute for Behavioural Addiction at the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna, thinks gambling has become a coping mechanism. “Many people have lost their jobs, so they sit at home with nothing to do. Add anxiety or conflicts to that, and many will choose gambling as a way to cope,” he says. But it was not only by boredom, frustration and chance that gamblers took to betting sites during Britain’s spring lockdown, leading to the spikes in betting registered by the Gambling Commission. Although the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), the UK industry association representing betting companies, vowed in April to suspend TV and radio ads in response to concerns over increased risk for vulnerable people during Covid-19 isolation, they were quickly called out for hypocrisy. Television advertising only accounts for 15 per cent of their advertising spendings, according to GambleAware, an independent organisation working with the Gambling Commission to reduce gambling harm. Online gambling marketing spending, however, is more than five times higher. According to the House of Lords report the gambling industry spends £1.5 billion a year on advertising. It says 60 per cent of profits come from the “five per cent who are already problem gamblers, or are at risk of becoming so.” It wasn’t long after the supposed ad suspension that several companies found a loophole and employed “safe gambling ads”, which were – as an all-party parliamentary group on gambling harm claimed in a letter to culture minister Nigel Huddleston in May this year – simply commercials disguised as social responsibility messages. Some even featured the often-criticised slogan “When the FUN stops, stop” with the word “fun” in all-caps. During the lockdowns, more time spent looking at a screen in order to work or kill time meant being exposed to more online gambling advertising. Online advertising for potentially addictive activities is particularly problematic because it’s targeting is based on the probability of someone clicking on a link. “And if someone is potentially vulnerable to gambling addiction, they are also more likely to click on the link,” says Julia Hörnle, professor of Internet Law at Queen Mary University of London. That is why it’s plausible that, during the worst of the pandemic, the people who were shown more gambling ads were exactly those who needed them the least – problem gamblers. And then there is social media. Even if services such as GamStop allow internet users to block access to gambling sites, spending time on social media still exposes them to risks. “Blocking yourself from gambling websites is not connected to Google or Facebook. That means the internet will keep advertising to you in terms of your past interests,” says Michael Auer, data scientist and founder of Neccton, a service provider for responsible gaming solutions. On social media you could also encounter sponsored posts and stories promoting gambling more or less subliminally. On social media, the distinction between editorial content and advertising no longer exists. “Among all the content, it is very difficult to distinguish whether an influencer is being paid, or whether he is just an enthusiastic young man bragging about his latest bets,” says Hörnle. Little protection of the most vulnerable users in the online sphere can be seen not only in advertising, but also in the way platforms seek to retain user attention once they’ve conquered it. Problem gamblers, for example, are often included in VIP schemes that give special treatment to those who gamble large sums. VIPs are a small, select group, representing not more than five per cent of customers but providing as much as half of a gambling operator’s deposits. Eight per cent of VIPs are estimated to be problem gamblers. Once customers are brought into the scheme they receive special offers like free bets, bonuses, and loyalty rewards. They will be assigned a personal manager who phones and emails them regularly – often even befriending them and inviting them to football matches. But when it comes to making sure their “friends” are okay, the companies seem to fail. They don’t usually carry out affordability checks on their VIP customers, so they can’t know if their VIPs are heading towards financial ruin. Additionally, VIPs are often kept in different databases and companies might still approach them even if they are in recovery and have blocked themselves from gambling websites – although this practice could be illegal and pursuable under the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Initiatives like these were always lurking online, and dangerous to vulnerable gamblers, but particularly so during the pandemic. The UK’s specific legal framework is partly to blame. The 2005 Gambling Act put the country firmly on the path of gambling liberalisation – as many more companies were allowed to compete to get and retain consumer attention. This decision demonstrated its shortcomings when the universal adoption of smartphones and other digital devices enabled gambling 24/7. “During work, I would go for walks or to the toilet to gamble,” says Nicholls. “When you’re gambling, your phone is an extension of you.” As regulators failed to keep up with the digital revolution, operators found ways to exploit outdated regulations. It does not help that the internet does not stop at the UK border, or necessarily adhere to national regulations. The way countries currently regulate gambling is through blocking websites of non-licensed and foreign companies. But anyone can now easily use VPNs to bypass the geoblocking of some websites. “If one country introduces extreme restrictions, players will stop playing there, but will pop up elsewhere. It’s like a balloon – you press it on one side and a bump will come up on the other side,” says Neccton’s Auer. In the online world, restricting regulations in one country is not enough. “Harmonising regulation in all European countries could help to make rules easier to enforce,” says Hörnle, “but I think politically we won’t see this happening.” Plus, with Brexit now a reality, it’s unclear how the UK could benefit from a similar development. People such as Tony Parente or Kerri Nicholls found a way out of their dire situations thanks to support organisations. But at a time when many more people are seeking help – as during a nation-wide lockdowns – support might come too late. For many, a regulatory solution would be a lifesaver. When asked about how to protect users in a better way during the pandemic, the experts we spoke to all pointed to one solution: much more detailed guidelines for how gambling companies must protect vulnerable users. Some gambling companies may think this will lead to decreased profits. “But in reality, they are actually harming their own business by allowing disordered gambling to thrive,” says Auer. Promoting healthy engagement from users is more likely to keep them loyal for longer periods of time. A Betting and Gaming Council spokesperson said that the “pledges” the industry signed at the start of the first lockdown resulted in the doubling of “safer gambling messages” on betting websites. “The number of direct interventions by operators where a player was spending more time or money betting than they did before went up by 25 per cent,” they added. They did not address direct questions on the kind of measures betting websites implemented to reduce problem gambling during the lockdown. Auer told us that current analytics technology and user profiling can help companies detect early signs of disordered play even before the user becomes a problematic player. Constantly informing users about their own behaviour is not yet compulsory for online gambling companies. But information should come with responsibility. The more companies know about their users, the larger their duty to protect them – especially during a pandemic. “I didn’t even think I was an addict until that last bet,” Parente told us about the time he was gambling so intensely that he couldn’t find a way to pull himself out. Perhaps the additional risks brought about by the Covid-19 crisis will help to focus attention on how to ensure that a potentially harmful tool such as user profiling is turned into an incredibly beneficial one. The authors of this investigation were supported by a grant from the IJ4EU fund

  • Welcome to the Jungle: How remote work has impacted addiction

    Recently I spoke with journalist Joanna York of Welcome to the Jungle – a multi-channel media company that aims to inspire individuals to thrive in their professional lives. The article's title is ‘How remote work has impacted addiction…for better and for worse and having had spoken about this to a few people over the past eight months; I think I’ve got somewhat of a unique take on this particular subject. I came into recovery right at the beginning of the first lockdown, and for me personally, I found that disruption very helpful indeed. The article explains this in much more detail – click here to view.

  • BBC Radio 5 Live: Gambling-related harm

    I got a call asking me to appear on BBC 5 Live to talk about gambling-related harm. The Sunday night time slot didn't put me off. It's a subject that I would talk about any time, day or night, to raise awareness and help others. After I was Lisa, a guest on S1 EP5 - Women's Week - Raising Awareness of Female Gambling Addiction and Matthew Hickey from Gordon Moody.

  • Self-exclusion in Great Britain

    We present a discussion on the process of GB self-exclusion methods across: Online gambling Betting shops Casino Adult Gaming Centres Bingo Background The Gambling Commission outlines three tools: setting limits, time-outs, and self-exclusion to help users 'gain control' as a part of 'safer gambling.' Literature has shown that self-exclusion programs are beneficial but under-utilised In 2019, 53% of gamblers were not aware of self-exclusion Gambling Commission code of practice for non-remote gambling: Individuals should be able to self-exclude without having to enter gambling premises (3.5.2:2) Results Online Gambling A free online form that takes a "few minutes" on (Effective within 24 hours) Betting shops Phone the MOSES team (8 am to 12 am) & send documents by post or email Casino Visit a UK land-based casino Download & print form to be completed by hand and then emailed or posted Adult Gaming Centres Visit an Adult Gaming Centre Phone an Adult Gaming Centre Non-bacta members should contact bacta on e-mail or by phone Bingo Attend local bingo club or licensed bingo premises, explain and interview, take pictures, and assist in completing an online self-exclusion form. OR Contact licensed bingo premises by phone or website OR "Contact The Bingo Association, who will give them the telephone number of their club or licensed bingo premises. To start the process, a customer should complete the form below. Following receipt, a staff member from the Association will contact the customer (usually within 2 working days)." Summary of UK self-exclusion Two out of five self-exclusion groups are independent of contact with industry (online and betting shops) One out of five self-exclusion groups involve a method that is quick and available 24/7 (online) No self-exclusion method is clearly and easily advertised as available in multiple languages. Discussion A systematic review of 16 original studies published over 1997-2017 found that self-exclusion barriers need to be reduced. In line with the evidence, we also perceive industry-modifiable barriers to self-exclusion in availability and accessibility for the UK consumer, which we suggest are: Independence from gambling Perceived complexity Perceived chance of success Perceived time spent Language barriers Time restrictions (A lack of a 24/7 service) In particular, we note that the description for self-exclusion to Casino's states that the form must be printed and signed by hand (despite law on e-signatures) Conclusions We recommend that fit-for-purpose self-exclusion schemes be independent of gambling activity or representation, devoid of unnecessary verbosity and complexity, available at any time and in any language. Barriers in self-exclusion schemes, for all types of gambling except for online gambling, need to be urgently addressed using a simple online technology-based solution such as an online form (at minimal cost or specialist ability)

  • BBC Radio Lincs

    This morning I appeared on BBC Radio Lincolnshire for the second time in the past fortnight. Previously it was part of the BBC Upload programme, and the presenter gave out details of the All Bets Are Off podcast and aired a section from our Gambling Harm Among The Student Population episode. However, I was invited to the Mid-morning show with Melvyn Before talking about my own gambling addiction story. Due to the breaking news of the coronavirus tiered system update, we got to cut a little bit short otherwise, we would have spoken more about industry exploitation and the podcast itself. Below you will find the discussion in its entirety.

  • BBC Essex Radio

    This evening I was back on BBC Essex having a chat with Rob Jelly (host of BBC Upload). A show that has supported the All Bets Are Off podcast from the very beginning. We discussed mental health, gambling recovery, collaboration with Billericay Town FC, and affected others, which was the main purpose of this discussion. Rob played a clip of Julie Martin’s experiences as an affected other from S2 EP10 Affected Others - The Story of Julie Martin (including Steve Watts, founder of GamFam). To listen to my discussion with Rob, click on the video below.

  • Billericay Town: Raising awareness of gambling-harms

    The All Bets Are Off podcast is delighted to announce that we are part of a collaboration with Billericay Town Football Club, which will seek to further our efforts in raising awareness of gambling-related harm. We approached the National League South club a short time ago, and they were immediately receptive to the idea of this initiative. It was evident from our first interaction with Billericay Town co-owner Nick Hutt that they are a socially responsible football club and wished to lend a hand in our campaign. From today through towards the back-end of next week, The Ricay will be posting a series of messages via their social channels that aims to inform the wider public – especially those that follow the club and the local community – on the seriousness of gambling-harm, what gambling-addiction can lead to, and to signpost to support services and listening content such as ourselves. This campaign will include some of our trusted friends, most notably, Gambling with Lives, GamFam, Gamban, RecoverMe, Clean Up Gambling, and The Big Step. Gambling with Lives will be the match sponsor for this Saturday’s game between Billericay Town and Hampton and Richmond Borough at the New Lodge. A few days later, the All Bets Are Off podcast will adopt the same role for Billericay Town versus Chelmsford City. We want to take this opportunity to thank Nick and his team for all of their efforts.

  • Gambling and Guarantor Loans

    Gambling Harm UK is pleased to release an early report of findings from an ongoing retrospective case-series study of loan-takers (N=29) and guarantors (N=9). To access the early report, please click below: If you'd like to take part in future analyses around gambling and guarantor loans, please click here.

  • The NewStatesman: “A bookie in your pocket”: how tech changed sports betting dynamics.

    Rohan Banerjee, the journalist from the NewStatesman, included me in a news item titled “A bookie in your pocket”: how tech changed sports betting dynamics. The article explains why gambling apps and in-play markets need tighter regulation and includes our friend and founder of The Big Step, James Grimes. Click here to view the article.

  • National Gambling Treatment Service statistics from 2018-2020

    National Gambling Treatment Service statistics (Great Britain) published by GambleAware: 2018/19 and 2019/20. Executive Summary Overview of treatment statistics in Great Britain (for services that report to the GambleAware data reporting framework): Overall, 9008 and 7675 individuals were treated within gambling services within 2019/20 and 2018/19, respectively 3905 (66.3%) and 3635 (68.1%) gambling clients completed scheduled treatment in 2019/20 and 2018/19, respectively 954 (80.2%) and 580 (78.6%) affected others completed scheduled treatment in 2019/20 and 2018/19, respectively Key findings Less than 1% of the overall past-year gambling disorder population in Great Britain completed treatment Less than 0.03% of the overall affected other population completed treatment Treatment services see significantly fewer younger (16-34-year-olds) and ethnic minority individuals than are expected using data from the last well-designed prevalence study Gambling treatment services are disproportionately reliant on self-referrals when compared to other addiction treatment services in the UK Median waiting time for residential services was reported at 104 days in 2019/20 and 116 days in 2018/19 - reflecting a mismatch between needs and provisions Although treatment statistics reflect tremendous improvements in clients, only 30% reported a score of 0 on the PGSI at the end of treatment - indicating the importance of follow-up care and support Treatment data shows significant improvements in PGSI and CORE-10 and thus demonstrate that treatments have a profoundly impactful impact on health and wellbeing Methods Firstly, we compare the age-gender-ethnic distributions of the treatment population over what may be expected based on prevalence statistics from the latest well-designed study (BGPS 2010) Finally, we summarise data on sources of referral into treatment and treatment outcomes. Results Number of individuals by PGSI at earliest appointment in 2019/20 (2018/19) No harm 54 (36) Low-risk 49 (36) or approximately 0.02% of the low-risk harm gambling population Moderate-risk 280 (174) or approximately 0.3% of the moderate-risk harm gambling population Gambling disorder 6326 (5952) or approximately 1% of individuals who suffer gambling disorder harm Number of affected others There are an estimated 3.9m individuals who suffer significant harm due to someone else's gambling (6 affected others for every case of gambling disorder) We estimate that less than 0.03% of affected others are treated within gambling services in Great Britain. Gambling clients by age The distribution of gambling clients in treatment by age remained stable from 2018/19 - 2019/20. Treatment populations are significantly older than the expected population, and this is most pronounced among 16-24 and 25-34-year-olds. Gambling clients by ethnicity The distribution of gambling clients in treatment by ethnicity remained stable from 2018/19 - 2019/20. Treatment populations are significantly and disproportionately less composed of ethnic minority ethnic groups. Source of referral into treatment for Gambling clients in 2019/20 (2018/19) Self-referral: 92.2% (92.2%) Prison: 1.5% (0.8%) Other service or agency: 2.0% (2.4%) GP: 1.4% (1.7%) Mental health NHS trust: 0.9% (0.9%) Other primary health care: 0.9% (0.8%) Probation service: 0.3% (0.3%) Employer: 0.2% (<0.1%) Social services: 0.2% (0.2%) Drug Misuse Services: 0.1% (0.0%) Police: 0.1% (0.2%) Carer: 0.1% (0.1%) Comparing referral reasons in other treatment services for 2018/19 Waiting times in 2019/20 (2018/19) For clients treated during 2018/19 and 2019/20, 50% of clients were seen within three days and 75% within eight days. Waiting times for residential services were higher, with 50% of clients seen within 104 days (116 days) Treatment PGSI change in 2019/20 (2018/19) Between the earliest and latest appointment within treatment, the median change was of an improvement by 12 points (13 points) For individuals with gambling disorder completing treatment, 74% (76%) were no longer defined as gambling disorder at the end of treatment, and 30% (36%) scored a score of 0 (reflecting no gambling harm in the past 12 months) CORE-10 change in 2019/20 (2018/19) In both 2018/19 and 2019/20, the average change in CORE-10 scores in gambling clients between earliest and latest appointments was by 8 points. For those completing scheduled treatment, improved scores were recorded for 85.8% (87.1%) of individuals. When comparing percentages of gambling clients below clinical cut-off, 14.8% were below the cut-off at the earliest appointment, and 54.2% were at the latest (14.7%, 54.5%) Conclusion Treatment providers play a pivotal role in improving individuals' health and well-being, gambling harm either as individuals who gamble or as affected others. Groups that are disproportionately affected by gambling harm, such as younger people and individuals from an ethnic minority background, are also less likely to be receiving treatment. Other gaps in services are perceived in provisions for affected others, residential services, and follow-up care. Relative to other addiction treatment services, gambling-treatment services are far more reliant on self-referral, reflecting systemic issues within health care and criminal justice. Only a small fraction of those suffering gambling harm (less than 1%) complete treatment, which demonstrates that gambling harm is still neglected relative to other issues

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