One of my first reactions when all of my gambling “broke” out and became known by all my loved ones, was a real sense of confusion. Why me? Why was I so different to everyone else? What did I do wrong and so forth? I couldn’t, at the time, imagine that there were many other people as stupid as myself that could blow so much money and cause so much devastation, when they seemingly had everything.

Well the good news (although it isn’t really appropriate to call it that) is that you are a very long way from being alone or “special”.

There could very well be nearly 4 million other problem gamblers in the UK. That amounts to about 10% of the adult population and in this brief chapter I will try and show you how I come to that figure. Maybe you have already started on help forums or going to GA, and maybe you have seen a figure far less than that. Well, please trust me that I’m not trying to be sensational here, but I strongly feel it is important for you, as an individual, and as a problem gambler starting out on their recovery, to realize how big the problem is becoming in the UK (and indeed many, many other countries.)

If you listen to the industry, their body, the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) and the government, then they will have you think it is 451,000 or 0.9% of the adult population of the UK. That is a lovely, convenient figure which puts Britain beautifully in the middle range of other European countries and below its allies like the USA and Australia.  They won’t even stop there, as they will gleefully point out that there was possibly no real increase from the previous survey and any such increase can be explained by statistical variances common in a survey of this size.

So which survey do they refer to and what is my concern?

They refer to the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) which now, in 2014, so conveniently for the above bodies, has been scrapped and there are no plans for its return. Why should it (or something similar) return, after all, the government rakes in billions of pounds from the betting industry each year and the industry employs thousands of people?

My concern is because I see day to day and face to face what gambling can do to people. As the author of this bestselling problem gambling book,people come to me desperate for help and advice. When I say people, I don’t just mean the gambler. I mean the families and loved ones of the gambler and often the employers and colleagues of a gambler who has started stealing from the company to fund his/her addiction. I know firsthand the pain and devastation an addiction can cause someone and I have suffered very deeply because of the pain I have caused others. I deserve that, but they never did.

So why are the figures used by the industry and government so wrong, if indeed they are? Well, look at how the survey was undertaken and couple that with the nature and characteristics of problem gambler and you will begin to see. The survey was carried out via a common questionnaire conducted either by phone or face to face. Imagine the scenario that a man has just blown £4000 on an FOBT machine in 2 hours in a betting office on his way home from work. Due to this loss (which was bad for him but not uncommon since he became addicted to FOBTs) he now has to tell his wife and children that he must cancel the summer holidays to Cyprus in 3 weeks’ time. Of course he lies and tells them it is due to Daddy’s work. It is a sombre dinner table that evening and then the phone goes and it is someone asking him details of his gambling activities for the forthcoming Gambling Prevalence Survey.  What is he going to say? Yes I’m a gambling addict ruining my life and my family’s lives? Of course not, so the survey had its flaws from the outset, but if the government and industry are happy to quote from it then so am I. Here are two figures drawn from the summary that get very little mention:

A further 1.8% of the population (over 900,000 people) was of “moderate risk” of becoming problem gamblers

5.5% (over 2.7 million people) displayed some risk factors (of problem gambling).

My question to the industry, the government, the health services and any other interested parties is a simple one:

What has happened to that proportion of the population (7.2% or 3.6 million people) since 2010 and is it unreasonable to extrapolate that a very great number of them are now full blown gambling addicts? Maybe, as you read this, you can take yourself back to 2010, and consider how bad your gambling was then, compared to today. Would you have out yourself in the first figure of 451,000 problem gamblers then? Maybe you would have considered yourself as being at “moderate risk” of becoming a problem gambler? Perhaps you were just starting to switch from the horses, dogs and football bets onto the FOBTs or going online occasionally and betting there, as well as in the betting shops? You might not have even begun to see the signs of a problem developing , but the fact that you were betting regularly showed that you did have some “risk factors” within you.

For the past 4 years (indeed for much longer than that) there has been an unprecedented rise in all forms of gambling advertising and marketing. If advertising and marketing didn’t work (in regard to pulling in new customers) then industry (any industry) wouldn’t spend the millions that is does. The industry’s argument for this (and indeed the spread and clustering of betting shops in the High Street) is merely that they are competing against each other for the existing market. Utter rubbish in my opinion! They simply won’t accept that they are creating a larger market (of gambling addicts) rather than reacting to demand.

A problem gambler, on which the industry depends (unlike a “casual” Saturday afternoonpunter) has a finite amount of money that he/she can “blow” on gambling. Savings can only be used once; a house can only be remortgaged so often;  a car can only be downgraded to a point and then finally sold; credit and borrowing from institutions, payday loan sharks and family only goes so far and then finally there is only so much crime that can be committed until they are eventually caught. At that point, the gambler’s worth to the industry becomes zero therefore new customers have to be found and led to THE most addictive and profitable part of an operation, the Fixed Odds Betting Terminal. Even people working in betting shops will tell you they are encouraged (some say “forced”) to drive customers towards FOBTs rather than over the counter betting. So in conclusion those estimated 3.6 million people have been exposed to a huge amount of advertising from the industry and as they had (admittedly to varying degrees) already shown to have “issues” with gambling it is not unreasonable to extrapolate that many of them went on to “develop” a full blown gambling addiction.

Hopefully you now have an idea of the scale of the problem and how it isn’t just you that has got caught up in this. What you now need to do is balance taking responsibility for your problem gambling with realizing that you have been part of a huge and very effective marketing campaign by the industry. If people scoff you at you in regard to your problem gambling, then just consider how many times that person went out and bought one brand of toothpaste or disposable razor rather than another one because of an effective advert. You were led down a path that offered untold riches, financial freedom and even sexual prowess no matter what sex you are. Only very recently are people and groups beginning to stand up to the industry and question such campaigns and in many cases have inappropriate or misleading adverts removed.