Social Issues Spotlight: Gambling-related harm – an issue for all businesses

The Gambling Commission estimate that over 400,000 people in Britain have a gambling disorder, with over 1.7 million people “at risk”. With recent regulation on fixed odds betting terminals and a ban on the use of credit cards for online gambling, the government is paying particular attention to this topic. It is evident that a change in the industry itself is vital to addressing the issue, but what do all businesses need to know about this growing problem? 


1. Gambling-related harm isn’t just about the gambler

Estimates suggest that for every problem gambler, between 6 and 10 additional people (such as friends, family or co-workers) are harmed by their gambling. This harm can take many forms but includes damage to finances and relationships, impact on mental health and wellbeing and safeguarding issues. For example over a third of families that are affected by gambling and have children, couldn’t afford essential costs such as food, rent and household bills as a result of a family member’s gambling. If estimates are correct and more than 6% of the population (4.3 million people) are affected in these ways it is likely that many businesses will have employees who are experiencing this harm.

“I don’t know if I can do this anymore, I mentally have nothing else left to give, I love him, he loves me, I’ve tried to help him, it’s just too much of an evil addiction and now I feel like it’s taking away my happiness and my girls future, I’m so lost, and stressed, I feel like I can’t cope” Gamcare Forum, Jan 2020


2. Problem gambling can take place anywhere (including at work)

Smartphone and tablet use has risen significantly over the last decade, enabling people to gamble online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even from work; in fact 12% of gambling takes place at work. For businesses this means that gambling isn’t a remote societal issue, but something potentially taking place every day under their own roofs. Gambling-related harm also has serious implications for employees’ performance, with 10% of working adults knowing someone for whom gambling has negatively affected their work.


3. It goes hand in hand with other health and wellbeing issues

Problem gamblers are more likely than others to suffer from low self-esteem, develop stress-related disorders, become anxious, have poor sleep and appetite, to develop a substance misuse problem and suffer from depression. This is not surprising when we consider that compulsive gambling leads to chemical changes to the brain. Currently mental health and wellbeing is high on the agenda for many companies, but the relationship this may have to gambling is rarely considered. The graph illustrates the link between mental health and problem gambling.


4. Problem gambling changes people’s relationship with money

In 2019 UK gamblers collectively lost about £14.4bn, so it isn’t surprising that more than three-quarters of problem gamblers, who may use overdrafts, credit cards (until the new ban is implemented), or payday loans to gamble, have accumulated debt. For many their view of money itself also changes. They tell of a relationship where it becomes both worthless and the centre of everything; with thousands of pounds lost in a single session it is hard to grasp its real value.

“One of the main reasons I gamble is due to not having the value of money. It takes till I hit rock bottom before I realise that I need money! I hear people who feel really content with having £100 etc… yet I still feel skint even when I have £1000s” Gamcare Forum, 2019


5. The stigma of problem gambling makes it hard to seek help

Compulsive gambling is often hard to spot, and for those experiencing it, it is hard to disclose. There is still a perceived stigma, and a fear that employment and relationships may be affected. Because of this, people don’t always refer themselves for the support they need, with only 1 in 50 problem gamblers receiving treatment. For women, a perception that gambling is predominately a problem faced by men also contributes; only around 1% of women who experience gambling-related harm contact the National Gambling Helpline.

“I am a female gambler and I believe that there is probably a lot of us but the stigma seems greater amongst females and so is hidden more[…] no one is aware of my situation which I am trying to get out of” Gamcare Forum, 2020


What can businesses do?

Problem gambling is a growing and under-recognised issue. Addressing it presents an opportunity for businesses to take action and better support people facing this type of harm both in the workplace and more widely. Action can be taken in a number of key areas…

  • For businesses that look after people’s money, such as banks or pension providers, how can you identify gambling-related harm through the data you hold on customers and through customer interactions? How can you help protect customers against this type of harm?
  • For those in HR in any business, do you have policies in place to support staff experiencing gambling-related harm similar to those which address other physical or mental health issues? Do you have a confidential system to help employees disclose this to you? 
  • For leaders in any business, do you have a workplace culture that challenges the societal stigma and makes it easy for people to talk about gambling related issues? This is particularly relevant to businesses with a high number of employees who are male and in the 25-34 age bracket, (statistically the most likely demographic to face issues related to problem gambling.)


Sources available. To receive the Social Issues Spotlight as a monthly email, please subscribe here.

Read more