More British women than ever are seeking help for gambling addiction, according to new data from GamCare, the UK’s foremost independent problem gambling charity.
Figures shared exclusively with The Independent show a four percent rise in women contacting the charity for support, some 3,005 in 2020-2021, compared with 2,764 in 2019-2020.
In all, women accounted for 23 percent of cries for help during the pandemic. That’s up from 19 per cent in 2018-2019. GamCare estimates that just one percent of problem gamblers contact it for help, overall.
Perfect Storm for Problem Gambling
The pandemic created a perfect storm for online gambling. Many were furloughed from their jobs and consigned to their homes with little to do but seek out new forms of online entertainment.
A recent study by the researchers at the University of Bristol found that while the British public gambled less overall during lockdown, levels of online gambling increased significantly. The drop in general gambling was understandable, given that sports were largely canceled, and land-based venues closed.
But the Bristol study found that the number of those engaging in online gaming like poker, bingo, and casino games increased sixfold among regular gamblers, and doubled among occasional gamblers.
Three-quarters of women who gamble use apps and websites exclusively, rather than visiting often male-dominated land-based venues. Meanwhile, slots and bingo are overwhelmingly their preferred games. Slots account for nearly half of all online activity reported by women.
“[The pandemic] has created many more opportunities for women to gamble,” said Marina Smith, manager of GamCare’s women’s program, to The Independent. “And if you combine this with the financial stresses of the past year… Data shows women have been more likely to be furloughed in the pandemic, as well as taking on more caring responsibilities.”
Extra Stigma for Women
There is evidence that men and women with addiction problems gamble for different reasons – but both often do so to self-medicate mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.
While men seek to lose themselves in excitement, women become addicted to gambling because it feels calming. It’s a coping mechanism that helps them to forget the anxieties of everyday life, which, for many, have been exacerbated during the pandemic.
It may be, too, that the idea of gambling addiction as a “man’s problem” leads to women avoiding help. Smith said that many women cite “stigma” as a barrier.
“Social support is extremely important for recovery from gambling,” Smith said. “The societal expectations of women to be caregivers increases the shame and stigma for women gamblers.”
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