A gambling habit often starts small, some fun with your mates or a bit of excitement when you are bored at home. But soon you may be spending more than you can afford. Then your cards and overdraft are maxed out.
It is so tempting to hope to win back enough to clear the debts and pay your bills. You need money to do this, so you get a loan. But you lose more…
This is a vicious circle. Soon the only credit you can get is at horrible rates of interest such as logbook loans, doorstep lenders and payday loans.
You can escape from all this. It’s not going to be easy, but there are steps to take and ways to get support.
The secret addiction
For many people gambling is addictive and they can’t simply choose to stop. It’s not like saying you were tempted to have a takeaway because you were too tired to cook.
The free offers, the flashing lights, the feeling of suspense – they have all been carefully designed to trigger responses in your brain. Some people aren’t interested at all, some people can have a few punts and then not bet for months or years. But if your brain is wired a certain way, then you may get seriously hooked.
It’s not always easy to tell when a “habit” crosses over into an “addiction”. There is an anonymous self-test here you could try if you aren’t sure.
You have to be honest with yourself. If you think you could give up but you don’t want to, try not gambling for a week and see how it goes. If you can do it easily, you don’t have a gambling problem.
It’s often pretty obvious when a friend has an alcohol or drugs problem. But many people get very good at hiding their gambling from their family and friends, which makes it harder to get help earlier.
So how do you stop gambling?
Tackling a debt problem if you are still gambling is like trying to put a fire out with a fire extinguisher in one hand, whilst the other is throwing petrol onto the flames… So even if your debts feel like the more urgent issue, ending the gambling has to come first.
Here are some practical ideas. Not all of them will be relevant for you, so go for the ones that feel right first, but if it’s proving tough going, come back and think about the others.
Make it harder to gamble
- Self-exclusion There are different ways to self-exclude from betting shops, casinos, arcades and online gambling. For betting shops, you can visit them individually or call the Central Self-Exclusion Team on 0800 294 2060.
For many people deciding to self-exclude proves to themselves that they CAN do this. It can also remove you from email lists so you won’t have to ignore tempting offers every day for the next ten years.
- Blocking software If online gambling is your weakness, get blocking software for your PC, tablet and phone. It works!
Look for a bank that will help you with your decision to stop or reduce gambling. Monzo and Starling banks allow their customers to block gambling transactions. For example for Monzo:
Once the block is activated by the customer, it can spot any transaction that person might try to make with bookmakers – either online or in a shop – by using merchant category codes. It instantly stops the transaction from happening, before any money has left that customer’s account.
If a customer is tempted to place a bet in the heat of the moment, there is a 48-hour cooling-off period before the block is switched off. There is also a daily limit on cash withdrawals.
Get help and support
- For advice about stopping gambling, call the National Gambling HelpLine on 0808 8020 133 from 8 am – midnight every day. They also have a web chat facility and they can provide counselling if you would like this.
- Many people find the best support comes from other people who have been addicted themselves. GamCare have forums and chat rooms where you can be anonymous. Gamblers Anonymous organises different types of meetings where people with gambling problems can support each other.
- Christians Against Poverty organise local “Fresh Start” groups, safe and confidential places to talk and get support – see if there is one near you.
- Telling your partner, a relative or a friend may be very difficult, but stopping the secrecy and lies can be a relief, and you may get much-needed encouragement.
- Think how changes in your lifestyle could make it easier to resist the itch to gamble. This can vary from the simple – take different routes so you don’t have to walk past betting shops – to getting some new hobbies to occupy time in the evening.
Reduce the money you can gamble with
- If you have any credit cards that aren’t yet at their limit, consider giving them to your partner or a friend to take charge of. Or cut them up or put them in the freezer in a block of water.
- Try to move as many bills as possible to be paid by direct debit or standing order on, or soon after, your payday.
- If you have a partner, ask them to take over paying all the essential bills and set up a transfer of money to their account on your payday. Switch any joint benefits to be paid into your partner’s account.
- Get all your benefits or wages paid into your partner’s account, who then gives you some pocket money in cash. Extreme – yes. But it may not just reduce the money for gambling, it could go a long way to rebuilding trust with your partner.
- Register with Cifas. This is meant for people who have identity fraud problems. If you apply for credit, you are written to asking if you did apply. If you may try to take out a payday loan in the middle of the night, this couple of days delay may be all you need to resist the temptation. It does not harm your credit score.
Prioritise your money problems
You need to be honest with yourself – and your partner if you have one – about the damage that has been done to your finances. This means a list of all your debts, including any ones which you may not think of as being a problem, and any bills which are overdue. List the size of the debts and the amounts that need to be paid this month.
Then decide if you have enough money to pay them this month if you don’t spend any more money on gambling. If you do, then that is your plan. Read up about “snowballing” for ways to help this go faster, but at the begining your main priority is not gambling and getting used to this.
If you don’t have enough money to pay them all each month, read Which debts and bills are top priority? If you have any priority debts these need to be paid in full, even if this means paying nothing to your other debts. If you can’t pay the priority debts in full, get help asap, see below.
Non-priority debts can be offered a lower amount, even a token payment of £1. Tell the creditors that you are trying to sort out your finances because you have a gambling problem and ask them to accept this lower payment for a few months until your priority debts are repaid. It may feel scary telling a creditor or a debt collector that you have a gambling problem, but most now recognise this as an addiction which means that you need extra help from them.
If you have priority debts you can’t pay, a lot of creditors, it’s going to take more than a few months to sort your debts out, or you want expert help to talk to your creditors, read Where to get help and advice which looks at your options depending on the types of debts you have, where you live and whether you would prefer phone help or to talk to someone face-to-face.
Whoever you talk to, tell them about your gambling problem and what you are doing to try to give it up. All the debt advice services I have listed are confidential and non-judgmental, but they can’t help properly unless they know the full picture. Often the best approach is to put your non-priority debts on hold for a while until it’s clear that you are winning the battle to stop gambling.
Feeling mad at your creditors?
A common reaction when people realise the full situation they are in is to blame the creditors for allowing you to borrow so much. Sometimes this is a good point! It may be possible to ask for refunds of interest you have paid if a creditor should have known you had big problems but they continued to lend. See these articles looking at complaints about payday lenders and doorstep lenders such as Provident. Don’t worry that your complaint will be rejected because you were gambling – well it may be by the lender, but take the complaint to the Financial Ombudsman, see How gambling affects payday loan refunds for some detailed examples.
But this isn’t going to help at the start. In six months, once you are feeling on a firmer footing, you can think about any complaints. They aren’t quick and they won’t solve your immediate problems.
Your priorities are to kick the gambling habit and get your finances stabilised so you don’t need to borrow any money each month.