Gambling is a common pastime and one that many people manage responsibly, but problems can arise when its addictive nature leads people to place bets with money they don’t have. That’s what makes gambling addiction a such well-trodden path towards problem debt.
In this article we explore gambling addiction, the relationship between gambling problems and debt problems, and how gamblers can find the help and support they need to regain control of their finances and pull themselves out of debt.
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What is gambling debt?
A strict definition of a gambling debt would be any amount of money you owe to a party who you’ve placed a bet with, whether that’s an individual, a bookmaker, or a casino.
But gambling debts are more complex than that, because they can easily morph into other types of debt, including debt related to credit and debit cards, loan debt, and even debt to family and friends.
That’s why gambling problems and problem debt so often go hand in hand. One can quickly become the other. When someone with a gambling addiction runs out of money, they don’t just stop betting. Instead, they look for other sources of credit, and will exhaust every option, which can lead them into great financial difficulty, including bankruptcy.
How do people fall into gambling debt?
The main reason people fall into gambling debt is because gambling is addictive. It stimulates the brain in the same way that alcohol or drugs might, and after a big win, an individual will experience an endorphin hit that makes them feel great. When someone is determined to chase that feeling, no matter the danger to their finances, gambling addictions develop.
If you find yourself with gambling problems, it can be hard to get away them – especially when advertisements on TV, social media, and even your favourite team’s football kit, are constantly inviting you to place a bet.
The BBC found that 95% of ad breaks during live football matches in the UK featured adverts for betting firms. These adverts can usually only be shown after the 9pm watershed, to avoid showing them to children, but live sports broadcasts are an exception to the rule. With this barrage of promotion, it is unsurprising that so many people feel the compulsion to gamble every day.
Problem gambling often becomes problem debt. When people with gambling problems empty their bank accounts, they might turn to credit. It’s not uncommon for gamblers to bet using their credit card.
The issue with using a credit card is that you’re gambling with someone else’s money, and will you eventually need to repay. Credit cards come with interest rates and charges that can quickly turn a one-off bet into serious credit card debt.
How much money do gamblers lose?
How much money gamblers lose through betting depends on various factors, including how much money they have to begin with, the level of access they have to that money, whether they have alternative sources of finance in place to feed their habit, and how severe their addiction is.
While the size of the losses depend on the size and frequency of the bets placed, there are some general stats available. According to research conducted by Beating Betting, 38.7% of gamblers who bet online say they regularly bet £10–£100 per month, and 20.9% say they have lost ‘hundreds’ through gambling.
The BBC’s figures show that people spend a total of £14.5 billion a year on gambling in the UK, and that 9 in every 1,000 Britons – about 1% of the UK population – can be categorised as problem gamblers.
How can gambling debt affect my life?
Gambling addiction – and the debt that stems from it – can affect your life in any number of ways, from alienating your friends and family, to sparking money problems that force you to turn to debt solutions like bankruptcy.
Understandably, those who struggle with compulsive gambling are likely to experience financial difficulties. This could be anything from having to cut back on buying to make room in your budget for gambling, to being left without any money at the end of the month for household bills, council tax, or other priority debts.
In many cases, problem gambling can lead to problem debt. People tend to fund their habit with overdrafts, credit cards, or payday loans. They might even be tempted to gamble more in an effort to pay off these debts. This can lead to a vicious cycle that may leave you with worse money struggles than before, and can even result in bankruptcy.
Experiencing debt problems is enough to affect anyone’s mental wellbeing, and research has shown that problem gambling can lead to anxiety, low self-esteem, depression and even insomnia.
Gambling, like any addiction, can also cause people to lose interest in things they previously enjoyed, which can push them to spend even more time gambling. It’s a vicious cycle.
Those who are already vulnerable to mental health issues may turn to gambling as a distraction. However, this often makes the problem worse.
The money problems that gambling can cause more often than not lead to arguments between you and a loved one, which often stops people from talking about their problem. The obsessive need to gamble can also lead to people spending more time gambling, and less time with friends, family, or their partner.
It can also have an effect on a person’s work relationships and, in turn, their career. As problem gambling can cause anxiety and a loss of concentration, this can lead to people being distracted at work or finding it hard to focus, meaning their job could end up being at risk.
What are the warning signs of problem gambling?
If you feel you have a problem with gambling, there are usually some common warning signs to look out for. You may be a problem gambler if you find yourself:
- Regularly spending more than you had planned on gambling.
- Spending on gambling instead of important bills such as rent or utilities.
- Using gambling as a distraction from other things going on in your life.
- Having feelings of guilt or shame about your gambling habits.
- Using things such as an overdraft, credit card, or payday loan to fund your gambling.
- Trying to pay off your debts through gambling.
- Noticing a change in the state of your mental health.
Signs of problem gambling in friends, family, or your partner can be easy to miss, but you know or think someone has a problem with gambling, some of the following signs may be familiar to you:
- Going to fewer events with friends and family.
- Hiding things about their money (if usually talking about money is normal).
- Having a lot of loans or credit cards.
- Having unpaid bills.
- Seeming worried or angry without a clear reason.
- Not doing well at work.
- A lack of food or other basic items in their home.
If you’re still unsure whether you or someone you know is struggling with this type of debt, the gambling charity Gamcare has a helpful self-assessment test which can show whether you might need some help to get your gambling under control.
How to keep on top of gambling habits
Problem gambling can be draining, and everyone deals with it differently. Below are some steps you can take if you think you may be struggling to keep your gambling under control.
Make small personal changes
Look for any patterns in your habits and try to change things in your life to help break this. For example, you might be able to avoid places which tempt you to gamble.
Betting shops should allow customers to exclude themselves. This means that staff will refuse to serve you, which will help to prevent you from gambling. This is also available on most gambling websites.
Simply getting things off your chest with a friend or family member that you trust can help you to feel driven to deal with the problem.
Speak to an expert
You can get free advice through gambling helplines. Some companies also provide counselling to help you find out why you gamble, and offer advice on how to break the gambling habit.
Seek out support groups
Support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous can provide a mutually supportive environment in which to discuss issues, and offer support, friendly advice, and services that can help you take steps to overcome a gambling problem.
Get help to clear your gambling debts
Writing off debts accrued by gambling can be a great motivator to keep such problems firmly in the past. You may be able to do this by entering into a debt solution such as an IVA or trust deed. However, you’ll need to prove that you are resolving your gambling problem before entering into any of these agreements.
How can I get out of gambling debt?
Gambling debt can have a huge impact on your life, but at Creditfix we’re here to listen, understand and put you on the right path to get help for your circumstances.
Contact us today for confidential, quick and easy debt advice; you can call us free on 0808 253 2946 or complete our quick questionnaire.