Guest blog: Gambling and Debt

21 February 2020

Evan Hook is the Project Lead for the North East Gambling Support Service, based at Citizens Advice Gateshead. The national service, funded by GambleAware, has been set up to increase awareness of Gambling Related Harm and available support services. In this blog, Evan discusses debt as a gambling-related harm. 

Debt as a gambling-related harm

The Gambling Commission defines gambling-related harm as: ‘The adverse impacts from gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and society.’

We know that these harms vary significantly between gamblers. They include impacting mental health, family and friends; asset losses; poor workplace performance and increase in crime. The one harm which we probably see more frequently than any other is that of debt. Debt advice is the most common trigger for those affected to seek support with their gambling.

How big is the problem?

Short answer, it’s hard to gauge. But, there’s some really good research out there which gives us an idea. GamCare’s latest report found that 71% of people in treatment had some level of gambling debt – with 23% experiencing financial difficulty. In terms of pounds and pence, 9% of people in treatment with GamCare had more than £20,000 of gambling debt.

These sums begin to get clearer once we look at those who need support with their gambling. Spending varies significantly depending on how people engage in gambling. Those who predominantly gamble offline spend on average £133.70 per week. This figure increases to £205.90 per week for those who gamble online. The online gambling sector is growing and fast – making this a clear cause of concern.

Research shows that to finance gambling, people tend to cut back on their unnecessary spending before using credit. The most used type of credit is overdrafts. Credit cards closely follow (more about this later) and then loans. It is concerning that the fourth most common form of credit used by gamblers is loans from friends and family. The impact of this on the family unit contributes to a whole other harm – the social consequences of gambling.

What’s around the corner?

There are two main changes in the near future which will impact the relationship between debt and gambling significantly.

Firstly, many of the major UK banks have announced an increase of standard overdraft interest rates to as high as 40% APR later this year. Given that overdrafts are currently the most commonly used credit source for gambling, the impact that this will have on gambling debt is arguably unprecedented. We can likely expect to see a significant increase in gambling-related debt, even if there is not a similar increase in gambling participation.

There is, however, a positive change also occurring. From April, the Gambling Commission is introducing a ban on all forms of credit card gambling.

The Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, Neil McArthur, said:

“We also know that there are examples of consumers who have accumulated tens of thousands of pounds of debt through gambling because of credit card availability. There is also evidence that the fees charged by credit cards can exacerbate the situation because the consumer can try to chase losses to a greater extent.”

A survey of people receiving treatment for gambling found that all participants felt that more proactive interventions could and should be developed by consumer credit institutions. Therefore, the credit card ban is a welcome step forward in minimising gambling-related debt.

What help is available?

The important thing to know is that help is out there for anybody who needs it – please do speak up. If you would like talk about gambling, call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133 (for free, 24/7). Online support and resources are available at www.begambleaware.org, or get in touch with your local Citizens Advice to find out more about debt as a gambling-related harm.

Evan Hook

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Evan Hook

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