Why not, eh! I was sitting there last night flicking through the channels on the TV when up pops an advertisement for www.gambleaware.com warning me of the perils of an uncontrolled gambling habit. There was an image of a young man looking a tad miserable, with a tagline which went something like; when it stops being fun it’s time to stop. Catchy, succinct and undoubtedly, sound advice. However, this somewhat depressing commercial for the perils of the betting vice was immediately followed by another extolling its virtue in a shiny technicolour commercial offering me a “free spin” if I just sign up with my bank card at www.giveusallyourdosh.com. This is the fat paradox of the free market, where a single corporation can offer you a supersized fizzy drink followed by a diet plan and a lifetime prescription for high blood pressure tablets.
On the Gamble Aware website, they tell you in some detail about the illogical nature of gambling to excess on their Myths and Facts page (http://www.gambleaware.co.uk/myths-and-facts). All well and good but not really relevant to the addicted gambler: no more so than telling an alcoholic too much wine can wither his liver and he would do well to turn his affections towards the health-giving properties of dandelion and burdock. Not relevant because the alcoholic knows this: he is alcoholic, not stupid. Gamble Aware are funded by the Responsible Gambling Trust, “an independent charity funded by the gambling industry”. Call me quirky but I’ve rarely seen a more contradictory phrase.
Now I’m not saying Gamble Aware should stop running their advertisements. If their campaign stops one borderline problem gambler in his tracks then that’s a good thing. In fact, I’d be happy if they took all the available ad slots to stop the online casino companies getting a look in. But let’s not pretend we are addressing the problem of pathological gambling. This issue is almost certainly related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). When I was in my early teens I had an obsession with unplugging appliances from electrical sockets (see my poem Letter To Brezhnev ), but the minute I started work (and proper lunchtime drinking, for this was the City of London in the seventies) my obsessive compulsion became feeding the fruit machines in the pubs and clubs I frequented. And I frequented a lot. At its worst stages, I would travel right across London to play machines in areas where I was unlikely to bump into colleagues, some of whom were noticing that my habit was out of control.
All manner of research is being done into the causes of addictions of all types, and from what I have read some of the researchers in this field (and many others) are quite probably addicted to acronyms and research grants. There is some debate it seems as to whether pathological gambling (PG) is related to substance use disorder (SUD). Well, I’m not qualified to talk about problem gambling except by dint of my experience, but I recently heard a psychologist on the radio saying he believed all addiction is basically the same insofar as all addicts are craving a dopamine hit. This makes sense to me. I mean who doesn’t love a spot of dopamine.
According to OCD-UK over 1.2% of the population suffer from this mental disorder, although they acknowledge the real figure is probably higher due to the understandable reluctance of sufferers to talk about it. People with OCD naturally feel embarrassed and ashamed about not being in control of their thoughts and actions, and even in these more enlightened times, nobody wants a label. Also, although an estimated seven hundred thousand people in the UK have this condition, that very fact tells us that the vast majority won’t have a clue what we are talking about, and it’s quite likely Katie Hopkins would think we should pull ourselves together.
Gambling and OCD are almost certainly related: scientists and pharmaceutical companies are researching suitable drug treatments for both these conditions. According to an article in the New Scientist, “a compound called N-acetylcysteine, which looks promising as a treatment for drug and gambling addiction, also seems to help in OCD.” And as with depression, schizophrenia, and other mental disorders, there will doubtless be cases where drugs are the only way to save an individual from their particular combination of neurological wiring and hormones. But if the pharmaceutical option becomes the norm we may truly be heading for a brave new world where opiates are prescribed to the masses to ensure everyone wakes up with a sense of wellbeing.
The gambling industry is not going to curb its business to help the minority of people who are addicted to their products. The vast majority of gamblers probably just enjoy the thrill of having a flutter, just as most drinkers don’t get up in the morning and pour Pinot Grigio on their cornflakes. But if you are earning your living (or even making a fortune) from this gambling business don’t assume you have fulfilled your duty of care to your customers by running the Gamble Aware ad directly before the casino ones. In fact, perhaps it is time to consider a ban on advertising for all gaming businesses? That would get my vote: after all, we have prohibited tobacco advertising as we have at last recognised the harm it does. Perhaps the time has come for similar restrictions on gambling ads, and also on some of the most harmful (or profitable, depending on your point of view), gambling products and machines. I’m thinking here of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, which, being able to take a single stake of up to £100, seem to have been designed with the sole intent of hoovering the maximum amount of cash from the pockets of the afflicted in the shortest time possible.
Mercifully for me, I haven’t played the slots since falling for a pink haired Cockney over thirty years ago. I’m not sure there are enough of those to go around, and anyway, it might not be the solution for everyone. But for me, thus far, she seems to have worked wonders.
Useful links for problem gamblers.
For help with other OCD issues go to