For most people, sports betting is a harmless form of entertainment. However, like other forms of gambling, it can be abused – and if taken to extremes, can be harmful. Here we consider what problem gambling is, how to avoid falling into the trap of problem gambling and what you can do if you feel like your sports betting activities are getting out of control.
If you’re in the UK and you, a friend or a member of your family needs help addressing a gambling problem now, you can skip straight to the list of helpful resources we’ve included below.
What counts as problem gambling?
If you have difficulty limiting the time and money you spend on gambling and this is causing you or others harm, you qualify as having a gambling problem. The harm involved might not be only financial; problem gambling may also compromise a person’s relationships, reputation and health.
Problem gamblers often rationalize their behaviour to themselves or others. It’s important to note that:
- you don’t have to gamble regularly to qualify as a problem gambler
- being able to afford your losses doesn’t always mean that you don’t have a gambling problem
- gambling is a decision; not an inevitable result of relationship or financial problems.
The following are warning signs of problem gambling:
- you go into debt or sell personal belongings so you can place bets
- you have a hard time knowing when to stop, especially when you’re on a losing streak
- you hide your gambling from people who are close to you or exaggerate your wins and hide your losses
- friends or family are expressing concern about your behaviour
- you become defensive when people bring up your gambling behaviour
- you lie about your financial affairs or hide them from others.
How common is problem gambling?
Research conducted in several countries suggests that problem gambling affects between 0.5% and 3% of the general population. Problem gambling is found anywhere where people can speculate on the outcome of an event, from back-room poker games to stock markets. However, research indicates that problem gambling is the most prevalent among users of spread betting services, fixed odds betting terminals and betting exchanges.
Avoiding common problems
Being aware of risky behaviours and taking steps to avoid them can reduce your risk of becoming a problem gambler.
Avoid chasing losses
When you lose a big bet, your first instinct may be to try to win your money back by placing another bet. Because the risk remains the same for the second bet and each bet after that, this can quickly lead to a negative cycle in which you continue losing and betting greater amounts. Instead, never anticipate winning a bet. Budget how much money you can afford to lose and spend only this amount. Also, after you lose a bet, take a breather until the urge to chase your loss has disappeared.
Don’t fall into the trap of the gamblers’ fallacy
The gamblers’ fallacy is the belief that your chance of winning a bet increases after every bet you lose. It’s easy to think this way, and some online marketers may even encourage you to do so. Punters may even increase their bet amounts as they lose because they believe they’re due a win. However, this isn’t how probability works.
A basic understanding of probability is all you need to avoid falling into the trap of the gamblers’ fallacy. Remember that the odds of winning a bet don’t improve because you lost your previous bet. You’re also not more likely to lose a bet if you won your previous bet. For example, the probability that a coin you toss will land on heads is still 50% no matter how many times it has just landed on tails.
Never combine substance abuse with gambling
Alcohol and a range of drugs can all impair impulse control. Casinos know all about this, which is why many of them offer their clients free alcoholic drinks. Your best strategy when placing bets is to ensure that you’re well rested, lucid and focused on your betting. Stick with water or juice.
What to do if you suspect you have a gambling problem
If you suspect that you have a gambling problem, you can take the following steps:
1. Set and stick to limits
As an initial measure, you should aim to limit the time and funds you spend on gambling. Ideally, set a deposit limit with your bookmaker. This type of limit generally takes up to two weeks to modify, preventing you from changing your limit in the heat of the moment.
2. Request a lockout
Many bookmakers offer the option of requesting either a “cooling off” period or a straightforward account lockout, to prevent you from using your account. You can ask your bookmaker for more information about self-exclusion services.
3. Using gambling blockers
While a lockout from your existing betting accounts can be an effective way to enforce a cooling off period, it can’t prevent you from setting up a new account with another bookmaker. However, paid services like Net Nanny or Gamblock can apply a universal block so that you can’t gamble via any recognized gambling site.
4. Get help
If you’re feeling out of control or someone close to you has a gambling problem, don’t hesitate to get help. Support groups like Gamblers Anonymous, organizations that provide professional counseling and addiction treatment clinics all offer help for those with gambling issues.
Resources in the UK:
- Gambleaware: http://www.gambleaware.co.uk/
- Gamcare: http://www.gamcare.org.uk/
- Gambler’s Anonymous (including a comprehensive list of Gambler’s Anonymous groups around the world): http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/ or phone 0207 384 3040
- Gordon House online at www.gamblingtherapy.org. See www.gordonhouse.org.uk or call 01384 241292 for details of the help and treatment they provide
- Gam-Anon (deals specifically with friends or family of people who have gambling problems): www.gamanon.org.uk or phone 08700 50 88 80.
- The Samaritans: www.samaritans.org.uk or phone 08457 90 90 90
5. Use debt counselling
By the time gamblers recognize they have a problem, they may find that they’re deep in debt. In such cases, debt counseling services can be invaluable. A debt counselor will calculate debts, negotiate with creditors on your behalf and, where possible, attempt to create reasonable repayment schedules to prevent the seizure of assets.
Resources in the UK: