Community: The Social

Gambling chat with Andrew Poole

Andrew Poole has been leading projects for the national gambling addiction charity GamCare for five years. He dropped by to answer your questions on gambling debt, internet addiction and poker.


Helen: Hi, and welcome to the chat everyone. Andrew is ready to answer the first question.

girl with sharp teeth: Do you have any specific advice on dealing with someone suffering from gambling problems?

Andrew: The best advice we can give to anyone supporting someone is to call GamCare's helpline on 0845 6000 133 and speak to an advisor. If people prefer to use the internet we also have an online confidential advice service at The difficult thing to remember is that unless the person wants to stop gambling themselves, anyone supporting them will have difficulty helping them stop. The gambler has to recognise they have a problem first.

iCeY: Whats the best way to approach someone you feel has a problem with gambling if they dont realise it themselves?

Andrew: I think the best way to approach them is with sensitivity. Try and initiate a conversation about gambling in general and progress to talking about gambling on a regular basis. Have a look around our website and read about the issues. You could download some leaflets about the signs, symptomsand indicators that gambling habits are getting out of control and give the information to them.

It's important to understand that if they don't realise they have a problem they may not be open about it. Make sure they know that if a time comes when they do want to talk about it there is support available.

iCeY: Will do.

Rob: How do gamblers get into unsecured debt, who honestly loans them money?

Andrew: Problem gamblers are incredibly ingenious at finding money to gamble with, whether its exhausting their owncredit, borrowing against houses, or borrowing from friends and family. People who are hiding gambling problems become increasingly clever at hiding why they are borrowing money from friends and family. It's not unusual for problem gamblers to borrow money with a view to paying off debt, but then end up gambling that and getting into more debt. It's important for anyone supporting a problem gambler to take what we call a 'tough love' approach and not supply more funds as this will just fuel more problems.

Helen: Thanks for that.

Rob: Is it true you can't legally enforce a gambling debt?

Andrew: What's incredibly tricky with internet gambling is that companies are from all over the world and that adds to the complexity so it's very difficult to give an exact answer. However,if you want to contact GamCare through our email service then we'll be able to find a full answer.

Rob: Is there such a thing as a professional gambler?

Andrew: I think there are many people who make gambling their profession but whether people are playing poker or betting on horse races, actual evidence that people can make regular sums of money to support themselves is non-existent. There are professionals who follow the poker tours and although we can acknowledge they are able to make a living, we still have to recognise the other impact this activity can have on their lives. For instance, they may have to commit large amounts of time and end up neglecting other responsibilities to family and friends. While a very small number may claim to make regular money, they are the exception rather than the rule and the majority should only engage in gambling as a form of entertainment.

Rob: Why can a 16 year-old bet on the lottery, but not on a horse race?

Andrew: GamCare doesn't make judgements on the legality of any form of gambling. We're not anti-gambling and we work with what has been termed legal gambling by the government. It has been suggested that the legal age should be raised to 18 for all gambling but GamCare doesn't get involved in the legalities.

Fi: What support is available for young people who are trying to break free from a gambling addiction?

Andrew: There's an increasingly wide availability of support across the UK, but the best place for support in my view is our website. Visitors can talk confidentially to one of our advisors, or join in our forums or chat rooms where a number of young people are already actively involved and working through difficulties. Young people may also want to consider alternative counselling services or Gamblers Anonymous, although it can be daunting due to the older demographic. We've tended to find young people prefer communicating online, at least as a first step.

Helen: Great, thanks.

Fiona: How is online gambling different to other kinds?

Andrew: One major difference is that online gambling is a solitary activity, unlike many land based gambling activities that quite often involve other people and naturally have a more social nature to them. The internet has its own set of addictive qualities- we've all spent too long on ebay or emailing and when you add to that the opportunity to win money it becomes quite a heady mix. Quite often people who contact us with internet gambling problems ended up losing a sense of reality of the amount of money and time they were spending. It's quite easy to gamble with big sums of money when the figure is just on the screen and you're not handing over cash.

"Gambling stops being fun when it's no longer a form or entertainment, when it's no longer a social activity, and perhaps when people are gambling simply to try and increase the amount of money they've got."

Emma: Is it true women are more likely than men to have a gambling problem?

Andrew: As far as GamCare is aware there's no evidence to suggest that. In 2006 over 85% who called GamCare were male. That doesn't mean to say that there aren't more women out there, but maybe they are hesitant to come forward and admit problems. Many gambling environments have traditionally been male-dominated, or regarded that way, but internet gambling maybe makes gambling less intimidating for women. We have evidence now that more women use online casinos than men, but more men play online poker. Internet gambling as a whole is nearly 50/50 - women account forabout 48% of all internet gambling.

John: What links, if any, are there between gambling addictions and other addictions?

Andrew: Sometimes when we work with people in a counselling environment we see people with more than one addiction such as drinkingand gambling or a drug problem and gambling. It isn't that the drink and gambling or drugs are connected but rather they are expressions of the same underlying problems. Less than 20% of the people who attend counselling at GamCare were experiencing what we call co-morbidity which is multiple addictions.

girl with sharp teeth: Does GamCare offer advice and support for friends and relatives of gamblers?

Andrew: Absolutely; the telephone helpline and NetLine are both available to anyone affected by a gambling problem, not just the gamblers themselves.

Equally the counselling services we offer are not just for gamblers but for friends, relatives and partners. We have counselling sessions with couples, and even with families including parents and children. For every problem gambler there are usually 10 other people adversely affected by the problem and we are there for them too.

Paul: If you've got an ace and a queen, before the flop - how should you call? I mean, do youhold them off a bit or bet heavily?

Andrew: I'm useless at pokerand I'd probably go all in - but don't take my advice :)

girl with sharp teeth: Do GamCare clients tend to have debt problems and how does this tend to impact on their recovery?

Andrew: Quite often debt is the motivating factor that causes people to pick up the phone. Unfortunately most problem gamblers have to hit rock bottom before they recognise they need help and rock bottom is usually reached when they exhaust all the money available to them to gamble. The average debt specified by callers to the helpline last year was just under 14,000. Most callers expressed they had 'some debt' but were unable to put a figure on it as perhaps they were still in denial about what the actual amount was. Approximately 12% of all the callers had over 20,000 in debt and have tended to believe that the next bet would undo the financial damage. Fighting the urge to get more money to gamble as a quickfix solution can prove a challenge for people early in their recovery.

Fiona: Is it possible to gamble a little if you're an addict? Is it like being an alcoholic, where if you have a drink you're back on the booze?

Andrew: GamCare recognises that gambling problems are very individual and we try not to generalise about how people should go about trying to stop, or whether a problem gambler couldever make a return to controlled gambling. While it's not impossible that some individuals may deal with their out-of-control gambling and return to controlled gambling, this is a minority and GamCare recommends stopping all forms of gambling at least for the period of time where people are workingthrough their problems.

Fi: When does gambling stop being fun?

Andrew: Gambling stops being fun when it's no longer a form or entertainment, when it's no longer a social activity, and perhaps when people are gambling simply to try and increase the amount of money they've got, or to escape from problems or responsibilities elsewhere. GamCare recommends that anyone wanting to gamble should just do it as a bit of fun. People should set limits over the time and money they want to spend. We also advise people to try to avoid gambling as a way to try and win back money that they've lost.

Claire: Are there any activities that people don't acknowledge to be gambling but actually are?

Andrew: It may seem surprising to learn that quite often people don't consider the lottery a form of gambling, but it very much is. While only a very small number of people develop problems with lottery draw based games we do see more people developing problems with scratch cards as they offer the chance of an instant win.

Claire: Is there support beyond counselling for people who gamble excessively?

Andrew: There are many different support opportunities out there and some will suit people in different ways. As well as helplines and counselling offered by GamCare there's also Gambler's Anonymous which provides peer to peer support. There's an organisation called Gordon House which provides residential treatment.

Helen: Thanks Andrew - that was the final question.

Andrew: Thanks for the questions and if anyone wants more information about gambling or problem gambling get in touch through the website, email or the helpline. If anyone missed a chance to ask a question you can email directly.


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