Gambling Addiction: The most ignored mental illness in society?

Gambling is everywhere. You turn on the TV, a floating Ray Winstone head is barking the latest odds for who is going to score the next goal in whatever match. If you are at university, you go into the kitchen and your male housemates are chatting about what accumulators they have on. If you are at work, your work colleagues are doing the same. You walk down the high street, there are around 10 betting shops – and a casino. You go to the corner shop, you see scratch cards. You watch ANYTHING online, about 20 betting websites pop up without asking. Basically the only things more popular then gambling around the world are clean water, sex, alcohol and jeans. Yet, the addiction to gambling think afflicts millions of peoples is not taken seriously compared to the effects of addiction to alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs, nor is it taken seriously as a mental illness.

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The floating head of Ray Winstone continues to haunt every half time interval

Jamie Clarkson, a work colleague and former footballer, notes about the young sportsmen struggles with addition. “When you finish training at midday, and you have all that money at that age what is there to do? Going to the bookies is seen as something which keeps you out of trouble while occupying yourself. But when it all starting totting up after 6 months or so, that is when the trouble really starts”. Another former footballer, Declan McAvoy, has also told me previously that, some more experienced players, including an ex Norwich City striker, have, despite the wages professional footballers make, have almost lost their houses over a gambling addiction.

The governments gambling commission has estimated that there is 430,000 people in the UK who are gambling addicts. This affects people from all backgrounds. From a poverty point of view, as demonstrated recently in the BBC drama ‘Broken’, it can literally destroy lives and drive depression and suicide. From a super-rich point of view, the addiction to gambling can explain a larger culture of high risk which led to the 2008 financial crash. Gambling addiction also disproportionately affects young men, with men seven times more likely to be gambling addicts than women. With suicide the biggest killer for men under 50, it can be argued that gambling addiction and the money troubles that come with it can help bring on serious enough mental health ramifications and the financial desperation to lead to death.

Before those of a right-wing persuasion start using the word snowflake left right and centre, I am not suggesting a ban on gambling at all. I myself place around £10 in sport bets every week and enjoy the occasional game of poker. I spend most of my loose change on Tuesday and Fridays playing pointless in the pub. I follow and regularly retweet Paddy Power on Twitter. I once had to change my Facebook name through a game of odds. The point is, I enjoy gambling, although nowhere near towards an extent of an addict, and would hate for that to be taken away, in the same way as although I understand the problems of alcohol dependency, would not like to see alcohol outlawed. All what a ban on gambling would do is create a black market worth probably even more than the current illicit drugs trade and put the control into criminals which would, if anything, make the problem of gambling addiction worse and possibly more deadly. However, as I said, the gambling market in its current form is unsustainable.

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The issue of Gambling Addiction and fixed odds betting machines was tackled by Jimmy Mcgovern’s Broken

Of course, as always, the answer is that simply more regulation is simply needed to make sure the gambling market is safer. For example, if you are a gambling addict, its hard to stop gambling when every time you turn on the TV to watch any sporting event you get about 3 betting adverts every ad break. So advertising for gambling should certainly be limited to a lower level, like alcohol. Second, fixed-odd betting terminals should not have a minimum spend of £10 per go, that level is only going to cheat people out of money fast, and the addictiveness of those machines has been one of the factors that has made gambling addiction worse in recent years. Finally, when it comes down to Casinos, which by design should be the fairest environment to gamble in – the house always wins policy which most in the industry have must be tackled. Some may say “but that’s how they make the money to stay in business”, but, with Las Vegas 22 biggest casinos earning a net profit of $5 billion between them in 2013 (according to the University of Las Vegas) I doubt they will be exactly struggling to stay afloat.

At the end of the day, I, and most people I know enjoy gambling in some way, and betting companies and casinos make a massive surplus as it is, so surely there should be a bit more leeway to try and limit the growing problem of gambling addiction.

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