Matthew Hickey, Chief Executive, Gordon Moody

Gordon Moody: Women and gambling

3 September 2021

Here at Gordon Moody, we see first hand how damaging problem gambling can be – and contrary to common perception, it’s not only young men who can be affected. Women gamblers and affected women (those impacted by another person’s gambling) are in urgent need of better quality and more extensive support and treatment.

‘Keeping it together’

We often hear that many women struggling with gambling addiction (either personally or as an affected other) will go to great lengths to try and ‘keep it all together’ for themselves and their families, despite the difficulties they’re facing. We’ve seen that this can mean many women are reluctant to explore anything other than short-term interventions, or they choose to shoulder more everyday burdens to support a male family member. 

This can mean that some women prefer to just put a toe in the treatment water and not seek longer-term or more specialised help. The reality is, however, that many need more extensive and intensive residential therapy treatment in order to turn their lives around.

Growing expertise

Last year, across Gamcare, GambleAware and Gambling Therapy (as part of the National Gambling Treatment Service), 30% of helpline calls came from women, with 59% seeking help for another and 41% seeking help for themselves. This equates to 9,000 women.

Here at Gordon Moody, we saw this increase first-hand. More than 100,000 women visited Gordon Moody’s Gambling Therapy website, taking the total number of web visits from women to more than one million. Of the one million-plus total ‘hits’, nearly 90,000 were from the UK. This was a 76% increase from the previous year. 

This increased request for help has not only been seen online. Our womens retreat and counselling programme received 160 applications for the 36 places available last year.

While there has been growing visibility of women reaching out for help, there is still work required to ensure that women get the right support, right treatment and right environment to deal with the range of complex issues associated with their gambling disorder. Gambling is the hidden addiction, and hidden further within that, is the story of women who are gamblers or affected others.

Gambling and debt

We are also aware of the growing problem of women facing debt and attendant mental health challenges. Gordon Moody annually surveys the level of indebtedness of those we have supported and treated – and from our last full year survey in 2019-20, we found that of 494 people who provided information:

  • The vast majority of debt lies in the £5,000 to £20,000 bracket for both men and women – 49.5% of women are in this bracket compared to 41% of men.
  • 19.6% of male and 13.40% of female respondents have debts in the £20,000 to £99,000 bracket. 
  • 4.13% of males and 2.06% of females have debts of over £100,000.

We have collected this data for five years and the pattern has remained broadly the same within those brackets.

We have also noticed that a greater proportion of women have debts under £5,000 than men – 23.71% compared to 9%. This tends to suggest that women could be recognising the problem earlier, or possibly that they find it harder to disguise gambling losses because of family relationships. Another possibility may be that debt patterns among women are linked to the type of gambling they do, such as bingo, where the financial outlay may not be as great, but can still have an impact – particularly for those on low incomes.

Another challenge that may face us in the months and years ahead, is the long shadow cast by the Covid-19 pandemic. Undoubtedly, many people will have growing financial pressures and there is a concern that some may be tempted to see gambling as a way to solve financial problems.

Our women-only centre

Gordon Moody has been addressing this challenge for a number of years through its retreat and counselling programme, but this is just the beginning of what needs to be done. Following a pilot later this year, Gordon Moody will be opening the world’s first residential treatment centre specifically for women gamblers in January 2022.

The centre will offer a unique safe environment to treat ten women who are severely affected by gambling. During their stay, residents will engage with people with lived experience and take part in a programme using latest research that effectively recognises and treats the wider issues surrounding gambling addiction in women. 

Basing our model on evidence gained from our own female service users, we plan to provide both greater residential care in a safe, female focused environment, and greater support for women affected by another’s gambling. Friends and families of the affected gambler will also benefit through counselling. Gordon Moody aims to provide support for up to 120 women a year affected by another’s gambling.

If you or a loved one are concerned about gambling, you can get help and contact Gordon Moody here. The national gambling helpline is available 24/7 on 0808 8020 133.