We can’t afford to play roulette with our approach to gambling

Last week I spoke at the third National Conference on Excessive Gambling in Wales.

A report from the Gambling Commission found 61.3% of Welsh people had gambled in the past 12 months and 1.1% of those people are problem gamblers.

The statistics shouldn’t surprise us; gambling is now accessible to the entirety of Wales on a 24/7 basis. The availability of betting terminals and online Casino games makes it easier than ever to gamble.

There are currently around 1,500 Fixed Old Betting Terminals in Wales and each have approximately £1 million staked on them per year - that works out roughly at £3,000 a day. £3,000 a day lost on betting!

The machines are so quick that it’s possible to bet £100 every 20 seconds; it’s no wonder they’ve been called ‘the crack cocaine of gambling.’

Worse still, some unscrupulous businesses usually deliberately place the terminals in deprived communities and the people placing these stakes are the ones who can ill-afford to lose the money they put into the machines.

Excessive gambling is trapping people into an addictive cycle of losing and winning and losing and losing, and losing. Gambling addicts are caught in a catch 22 situation of escalating debt which they often try to repay through gambling even more money they don’t have.

It’s not only money that’s being lost though. People lose their homes, they lose their health from stress, their relationships can break down, and they lose their place and purpose in society.

But it’s not just the machines that are the problem. Thanks to our digital age, after the betting shops and casinos close gamblers can continue to take their chances online. Online gambling isolates and hides addiction and it’s also on the increase.

More and more people are gambling behind closed doors in secret. Life savings are being wiped out and credit card limits exceeded. This makes it harder to know about those who need help and to reach out to them before it turns into crisis.

It is also a matter of concern that the Gambling Commission have found that the people most at risk for problem gambling are between the ages of 16 to 24; people with their whole lives ahead of them.

We can’t afford to play roulette with our approach to gambling. Everyone must be a winner when it comes to treatment and recovery.

That why I very much welcome the ‘Beat the Odds’ initiative launched by the North Wales based drug and alcohol charity CAIS and the Cardiff based Living Room.

This has carried out research and outreach work and currently supports 48 gambling addicts, with the aim to eventually deliver the service across Wales.

More information about Beat The Odds can be found on their website http://www.livingroom-cardiff.com/beattheodds/beattheodds.html

Those who feel they have a gambling problem can call for a confidential chat and professional assessment on 029 2049 3895. The service is free. Alternatively, people can call  Gamblers Anonymous on 020 7384 3040.