Kate Langston, Senior External Affairs Officer, Money and Mental Health

Are you worried about gambling during the pandemic?

24 April 2020

Stress. Anxiety. Loneliness. Depression. These are all feelings that can make it much harder to manage our impulses – whether that’s the impulse to snack, to shop, to check the latest headlines, or to take refuge in our beds. And at a time when many of us will be experiencing these feelings more acutely than ever, the urge to seek out activities or substances that can offer a little respite – no matter how temporary – can become overwhelming.

This situation poses different challenges to different people, but one group who are likely to face particular difficulties over the coming weeks are those who struggle with gambling. Already we’ve seen a number of gambling support charities and campaigners expressing concern about the impact that the current isolation measures might have on people’s gambling behaviours – particularly when combined with financial worries that many will be experiencing at this time. Both are factors that can exacerbate problem gambling, and with no immediate sign of these pressures easing, it is more urgent than ever that people have access to the support they need to protect themselves from gambling-related harm.

Some positive steps - but we need more

Many organisations working in the debt advice and gambling support sectors have been quick to identify the challenges this new situation could pose to those at risk of problem gambling, and to start developing a response. We have even seen some promising action from the gambling industry itself in the last few weeks, with the Gambling Commission issuing specific guidance to online operators, and the Betting and Gaming Council announcing a new 10 point action pledge for gambling firms to help promote safer gambling practices during the outbreak.

All of these new measures present a welcome addition to the support already in place for those at risk of gambling-related harm. This includes self-exclusion schemes like GamStop, and the spending blocks that are being offered by an ever-increasing number of banks. They also coincide with the new ban on gambling with credit cards coming into force this month. But even taken together, these tools still leave too many gaps for people to fall through, leaving them vulnerable to serious financial and psychological harm.

New solutions for new challenges

History has shown us that it is often the most challenging times that give rise to some of the greatest innovations. One of the few positives that may emerge from the current crisis is the opportunities it creates to tackle existing social problems in new or more effective ways. When it comes to gambling, our research shows that the financial sector in particular has an opportunity to do much more to support people who may be at risk of gambling-related harm. And with this risk likely to increase over the coming months, it is all the more urgent that banks and other financial services firms take action to address it.

Exactly what action these firms should take is one of the questions we’re exploring as part of a two-year project aimed at driving forward efforts to tackle gambling-related harm in the sector. In order to answer this, it’s vital that we have a proper understanding of the problems people are experiencing around gambling at this time, and the tools and solutions they think would help. 

That’s why, over the coming weeks, we’ll be reaching out to members of our Research Community to tell us about the challenges they’re facing in terms of managing gambling and other potentially problematic spending during the coronavirus outbreak. If you would like to help us with this work, you can find out more about our Research Community, and sign up to become a member and start receiving our surveys here

Alternatively, if you work in financial services and would be interested in finding out more about our project to engage the financial services sector in efforts to reduce gambling-related harm, you can sign up to our Professional Network here to receive updates and invitations to events.