Everything you need to know about responsible gambling

As voracious readers of all kinds of casino news, we’ve all read or at least heard the horror stories of problem gambling. People losing their homes and jobs. Marriages strained. Court cases and rehab. Problem gambling can have a hugely negative impact on a player’s life, even if it doesn’t go as far as a court date or divorce papers.

Today we are talking about ways to keep your gambling 100% safe, with tips on preventative measures as well as what to do if you suspect you might be developing a problem.

What is problem gambling?

Wikipedia describes problem gambling (or ludomania, compulsive gambling or gambling addiction) as an urge to gamble, despite the negative consequences, whether those are social, familial, financial or psychological.

The DSM-5 – the fifth and most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – considers problem gambling as an addictive disorder, on a par with substance addictions and manifesting in a number of similar ways. To be diagnosed with a gambling disorder, a person must experience four of the following, within a 12-month period:

  • Feeling the need to gamble with more and more money in order to feel satisfied
  • Attempts to cut down on or stop gambling cause irritability or restlessness
  • Repeated attempts to control, reduce or stop gambling have been unsuccessful
  • A preoccupation with gambling, manifested as thoughts of past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling session, or thinking about how to get gambling money
  • Feelings of distress such as anxiety, guilt or depression, are often triggers to gamble
  • “Chasing one’s losses” – the player will return to ‘win back’ lost funds another day
  • Lies in order to conceal the extent of their gambling
  • Has lost or jeopardized employment, education, a significant relationship or career opportunities as a result of gambling
  • Relies on others to mitigate the financial situations caused by gambling

Recent studies have produced evidence that supported the change in the classification of problem gambling, from an impulse control disorder to an addiction. In fact, researchers have discovered that the brains of gambling addicts function in much the same way as those addicted to drugs. It is important to remember that someone with a gambling problem is not being weak-willed or irresponsible – problem gambling is something built-in, a psychological condition that a person cannot control. Even responsible, strong-willed people can develop a gambling addiction.

Signs of a gambling problem

The signs of problem gambling may be subtle – it is not true, for instance, that problem gamblers are only the people who play all the time. Similarly, problem gambling doesn’t necessarily have to result in financial ruin.

Gambling becomes a problem when it causes problems. People who gamble infrequently may still have a problem. They might, for example, spend too much at online casinos or perhaps their behaviour in between gambling sessions is detrimental to their relationships. Players who can afford to spend large amounts may still have a gambling problem, even if their bank accounts can take the regular financial strain.

There are warning signs you can keep an eye out for though, whether it is you or a loved one who gambles. Feeling the need to be secretive about one’s gambling habits is a red flag, as is a difficulty in controlling gambling. Do you (or they) have trouble walking away, once a gambling session has started? Or do you feel the need to gamble until you’ve spent it all, in an attempt to win back your losses?

Gambling when you cannot afford it is another warning sign. You continue to gamble, even after your last dollar is spent, turning to credit cards, savings accounts or loans from friends. You might feel compelled to borrow more and more money, straining your relationships with people in the process, selling belongings to cover gambling costs or even stealing.

Finally, denial is the biggest obstacle to overcoming a gambling addiction. If your friends and family have expressed concern, or you are worried about someone’s gambling habits, speak up. There is no shame in asking for help and it is not a sign of weakness. The sooner the gambler can address the problem, the better.

Operators’ responsibilities

Thanks to the work of many institutions and regulators, online casinos are obligated to adhere to certain rules when it comes to protecting their players from problem gambling. Such regulations fall under the umbrella term Responsible Gaming. What does this term cover?

Online casinos implement a number of measures to protect vulnerable players, including features such as self-exclusion programs and offering advice and support on their sites. Players can also limit how much money they can spend within a specific time period.

Operators are also required to ensure that underage individuals are not able to gamble. This involves registration processes that make it clear that gambling underage is illegal as well as ensuring that controls to verify the age of players are in place and working correctly.

Another way casinos keep their patrons safe is through preventing money-laundering, fraud and other criminal behaviour. Suspicious transactions are reported and tracked, and stringent know your customer processes are in place to make sure that players are who they say they are.

Casinos must ensure that their games are fair and random, and that their advertising material is ethical and responsible. Marketing material must not target underage or vulnerable gamblers, or those who have self-excluded themselves from gambling sites. A number of trade associations, non-profits and casino regulators have developed codes of conduct for operators, software suppliers and associated service providers, to make it easier for them to keep players safe.

What can I do to stay safe?

Your best bet is to choose the right casino. How do I do that, you might ask. The best way to determine what kind of problem gambling prevention and support measures a site has in place is to look at their license/s.

The UK Gambling Commission is one of the most highly respected licensing bodies in the world and it holds its licensees to some of the strictest responsible gaming regulations out there. A UKGC license is a sure sign that a casino has the best support in place for gamblers. Casinos like LeoVegas, All British Casino, PlayClub and UniBet hold UKGC licenses and are a good place to start. To find out where a casino is licensed, you usually only need to scroll to the bottom of the page, where you will see their logos and badges.

If you feel you might be developing a problematic relationship with your gambling, or know someone who might, there are plenty of resources you can access to help tackle the issue. Most countries offer services like helpline, support groups and forums. The UK’s GAMCARE is a recently launched example and offers online self-assessment, support and counselling. A quick Google search will point you in the right direction.

Gambling should be, first and foremost, fun. If it is causing problems in your life, there are many ways to help deal with it. Most casinos, and certainly the reputable ones, will do their best to make sure your gambling experience is safe and enjoyable. Do not be scared or embarrassed to ask for support – we all need help at some time!