Women and gambling - are the right actions in place to tackle a growing problem?
Sarah Ramanauskas talks to Marina Smith, manager of GamCare's women's programme
In my player protection work with gambling operators in the UK I’ve seen the progress made in identifying risky behaviour and in reaching out to customers. However, I have seen little evidence this is being done with an understanding that women may gamble for different reasons to men and will react differently to standard "gamble responsibly" messages.
At GamCare, women make up one in five of those being supported and evidence shows this number is likely to increase. I asked Marina Smith, who runs GamCare's Women's Programme, what she thinks needs to be done differently by the industry to better protect female players.
Sarah Ramanauskas: Marina, do you think women gamble for different reasons to men?
Marina Smith: Yes, for sure. The women who contact GamCare usually say they use gambling as a form of escapism. It could be from mental health issues, physical health problems, domestic abuse or other kinds of trauma. And, unfortunately, gambling may then make these issues worse, particularly around mental health.
So, if they're not gambling for fun or excitement, "When the Fun Stops, Stop" isn't much use as a protection message?
Definitely. Women sharing their experiences with us have said it's just not relevant to them as most women don't tend to gamble for fun in the first place. Women are more likely to gamble hoping to win relatively small amounts to help with everyday bills or to improve their financial position.
So what types of messages do you think might work better?
There needs to be better signposting of the services available to support women in ways that suit them. Women need to know they don't have to feel alone or isolated with this problem. GamCare has developed an Industry Code for the Display of Safer Gambling Information, which launched on March 5 and standardises the way safer gambling tools and support options are presented to players. We want this information to be easy to understand and clearly signpost how to get help.
Do you think women find it more difficult to seek help and need more encouragement?
Very much so. Women often feel enormous guilt and shame about their gambling. We often say gambling is a hidden addiction, as there are no physical signs – that's even more the case for women. Women are placed under heavy expectations by society, they feel a tremendous burden to be good mothers, good housekeepers, so admitting they have gambled away money meant for the family is really difficult for many women. They are often concerned about what it may mean for their children or relationships if they do tell someone. Will social services get involved, will my partner find out? Women need to really trust someone before they open up about their gambling.
So it's unlikely they'll admit anything to a gambling operator who might contact them about their concerns?
In my experience, a woman really does need to feel she is in a safe space before she will open up. If she's contacted by a gambling company she's most likely to say everything's fine, she doesn't have a problem. It can take a lot of time for a woman to get to the point where she feels she can admit the problem to someone else. To build that trust, gambling operators need to reach out to women regularly and ensure female players are aware of specific support services for women.
Is this even more the case for women from BAME communities?
Research suggests women from BAME groups are at higher risk of gambling-related harms either as someone who gambles, or someone affected by another's gambling. The additional layers of stigma due to culture and religion makes it even more difficult for them to speak to their communities or health professionals. We need far greater representation of the diversity of gamblers and affected others. We also need resources that reflect women across diverse groups. And more outreach in local communities: for example, information about gambling addiction services could be available in local fairs, schools, shopping centres, where women may go by themselves and ask for advice without anyone they know being aware.
There are a number of services now available just for women – can you tell me a bit more?
The Gordon Moody organisation has introduced a special short residential course for women, supported by 12 weekly therapy sessions which can be had either face to face, by phone or online. Here at GamCare, as part of the National Gambling Treatment Service, we offer a range of support services for women. Our free National Gambling Helpline is accessible 24 hours a day via phone or web chat – we find women prefer to access our support and treatment services online. Women are also able to ask for a female counsellor, on the helpline or in treatment if that would make them more comfortable.
I would really encourage women to come forward to share their stories. The more representation we have of women's experiences, the more likely it is that women will understand they are not alone with this issue, that there are thousands of women in a similar situation and there is free, confidential help and support available.
If you would like to share your story, please get in contact with Marina via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are experiencing problems with gambling and would like to talk through all options available for support, you can contact the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133 or live chat at: www.GamCare.org.uk The team are available 24 hours a day.
Sarah Ramanauskas is a senior partner at Gambling Integrity, which helps operators focus on safer gambling.
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