There was one night I won £7,000 off a bonus and then it was “I don’t have to work or so many months now. I don’t have to do this job that has become so painful to me.” Then you would wake up in the morning, and there would be nothing left, and you would hate yourself. You would lift your head up off the pillow, remember what had happened, and put your head back down and then get up and you would get on with life, and then it would start again. Then there was one day when I was sitting in my kitchen, and it felt like gambling surrounded me. It was all four walls of that room, and I did not know what to do. The thought process was, “I don’t know how to make this stop. I don’t know how to make this go away. I’m the problem, so I must be removed.” I remember then going, “I’m equating that to I’m going to have to kill myself.” That really woke me up, and I reached out for some support.
I get frustrated, but I know that the majority of people that come for support are males, but they will like, say 75% of the people that come forward are males and then nothing is said about the 25% that are women. You’re just making women feel like they have no place and I just always feel like we’re pushed off the table. There’s targeted marketing of gambling products to women, so why is there not targeted marketing for women?… It’s all of these things where they’re not expecting to see women in that crowd, so they have no voice in this. It’s majority male. It’s still focused on that. The GambleAware campaign, they’ve done one this year where it was for women but when you click on the link it says it’s a gender-neutral information and nothing has changed. Little offshoots are still coming through now for women. We’ll wait and see.
Things happen. Life happens, doesn’t it? People get ill, people die, people have jobs, people lose jobs. You can’t predict what’s going to happen, so you could be a social gambler. You could just be out with your friends and you can enjoy that. Something can happen and it becomes your go to, to cope with that, and it’s about people having healthy coping mechanisms and feeling resilient.
Generally, people are in crisis when they actually want some support. That’s another thing of people don’t recognize where they’re up to. They’re probably comparing themselves to the newspaper articles, aren’t they? Of person loses £230,000 and they’re going, “Well, I don’t do that.” I’m not a professional footballer and people are not identifying with that.
It was a bit of innocent curiosity that I would definitely put down to– At the time, I didn’t have a TV so I could definitely not blame gambling adverts and they were not at the saturation point as they are now but there was definitely stuff on the internet and it probably was something that’s popped up or an email that’s come through and I’ve clicked on it and gone, “Well, why not? I’ll get some free spins or an incentive.”
There’s also other things like the financial industry. In my day it was credit cards and companies could see what you were spending your money on but wouldn’t intervene. Banks, it’s worked in their favour as well for a long time. There’re different actors in this that could be helping. I know that some people find it invasive, but the damage that can be caused in a very short space of time with people that aren’t technically in their right mind, and I know that’s hard to prove. It’s really, really difficult.
I saw my best friend and told her everything… I felt like a human being, that I sat there that evening with my friends feeling like I belonged. Because I’d spent so long feeling like I didn’t belong, that I didn’t deserve nice things… But that lying to people is as toxic as the gambling because it keeps you in this place that you don’t feel very good about yourself, that nobody’s going to understand you, so what have you got left at the end of the day? You’ve got gambling and it works on silence.
I ended up over time with five credit cards, which then turned into two high-cost loans because my credit rating was slowly going down. Getting loans to consolidate that debt to try and just make a clean break of things, and it didn’t work. It just created a black hole of more credit that needed to be filled, and very quickly I would get one credit card with a credit limit, and instantly, by using it, it would go over that credit limit, and then I’d have to sort that out.
How does it get to that kind of stress levels and what it must do to people mentally and physically? I’m coming to the acceptance of my life will probably be cut short by the amount of stress I’ve put myself through and the kind of physical impacts that I had after gambling, where I became really quite physically ill and had to have a major operation. Was that something that was hidden by gambling, created by gambling, exacerbated by it? Would it have healed itself?
I reached out for some support with the National Gambling Helpline, and I attended counselling sessions that had a gambling theme to them. One of the best things that ever happened to me it was one day that I had a counselling session and it triggered me. It made me incredibly emotional, and I went home, and I gambled £500. The next day, I saw my best friend and just told her everything, because I couldn’t hold it back. It just all burst out of me. I always said to people that is what broke the hold that gambling had over me, it crumbled away, and I felt like a human being that I sat there that evening with my friends feeling like I belonged.
I think something maybe changed then, and it became something that at the end of the day, after a hard day at work or being on my own, it was just something that became increasingly part of my life. Most of it was online slots. It wasn’t sports betting or bingo. I very rarely played bingo because that just didn’t feel like it was my thing. Just played lots and lots of different games. That went on for about two years, and probably was increasing in time, in money, but not really feeling that it was a problem. Going into that period, I started getting bullied at work. I realized I was in a relationship that I didn’t really want to be in, but it was so nice that I had no reason not to be in this relationship.
I used to support somebody who had quite a bad addiction with gambling and as they went into recovery, they got into those phone lines and was just spending all of the money on that, on the hope that they would win a car or it was them trying to balance that out of, “Well, it’s not really gambling.” That’s another thing that people don’t see the National Lottery as gambling, telephone lines is gambling, the Facebook lotteries and the raffles that are on there, they’re quite damaging and all these things that we do. I think we are just sleepwalking through it. Aren’t we?
Then I just started gambling. I started with the National Lottery, opening up an online account with them to put my lottery tickets on, and the minimum deposit is £10. Generally, most people don’t spend £10 on playing the lottery. I started using the instant games. Very quickly on reflection looking back, I’d spent too much on that already. This was my first exposure to it, and spent far too much money and then got bored, with this realisation that I wasn’t getting anything for my money. You didn’t really get much prizes. I forgot about it and I just left it to one side and didn’t do anything. Then it must be about 10 or 11 years ago, I must have been bored near Christmas, and boredom’s incredibly lethal. I lived on my own in this flat, so nobody there over my shoulder asking me what I was doing. I opened up an account and started playing online slots.
Another thing that I remember, people feeding back to me about companies doing a refer a friend, so gambling companies encouraging, well, maybe men as well, but I was hearing it from women, of women going, “I’m so sick of my friend telling me to join this, because if she put ten quid in, a friend, would get ten quid.” It sounds like little bits of money, but it’s all incentives, isn’t it?
Nobody goes into it going, “Today I’ll be a gambler.” It’s all very innocent. I have had conversations with women that have been encouraged to gamble by friends because they’d be good at something and or because they’re upset about something and there’s that social aspect of it, very innocent conversations that have absolutely turned their lives upside down and sometimes in a very short period of time as well, where it’s been lifechanging and not really in a positive way.
If you get up in the morning and its particular times of the day, there’s gambling adverts on for a particular things or Gala Bingo. Or again, going back to ITV, Gala sponsors, what they call “The Chase” and things like that, but it’s just all this normalisation. Loose Women, that’s an example, but it’s sponsored by a gambling company. They’re seeing that. Every time the adverts come on, it’s the beginning and end of a segment and it’s everywhere. Facebook is all over it. I’ve spoken to quite a few women that have got hooked into these raffles on Facebook.