We all have vices. Some of us enjoy a few drinks over the weekend; some of us smoke. When it comes to the New Year, it is common to announce to family and friends that we are giving up alcohol or smoking, but how many people announce they are quitting gambling?
The answer is not many. The truth is that most people see gambling as a bit of harmless fun. We love to put a small bet on a high profile horse race such as the Grand National or the Cheltenham Gold Cup. If our horse romps home at 33:1, it is cause for celebration, but if it falls at the first hurdle, it isn’t the end of the world.
A Bit of Fun
Gambling occasionally is fun. A small bet here and there is unlikely to cause your finances any real harm, unless your budget is so tight that even a £5 bet on the horses leaves you unable to feed the electricity meter for a day. Some forms of gambling are even considered to be a normal weekly expenditure. After all, how many people buy a Lotto ticket twice a week, or more when there is a larger than average Jackpot?
The Odds of Winning
According to Camelot’s figures, ticket sales generated £3,615 million between April and September 2015, which is a significant increase on the £145 million during the same period of the previous year. That’s an awful lot of people gambling their spare cash on a 1 in 14 million chance of winning the jackpot. So at what point does a ‘bit of fun’ become a problem?
A small minority of people have the potential to become compulsive gamblers. Often their habit is triggered by a small win. They might buy a winning scratch card or join an online bingo site and win on the first game. They enjoy the buzz that comes from winning, so they continue. Unfortunately, winning invariably turns to losing, and before long the person is chasing their losses in an attempt to recoup some of the money.
A Downward Spiral
Compulsive gambling is a downward spiral. You may start off winning, but it won’t be long before you are losing, big time. Compulsive gamblers spend money they don’t have in order to feed their addiction. When the money runs out, they take out loans, max out credit cards, and run up overdrafts, all in a misguided attempt to win back the money they have lost.
Countless homes, relationships, and lives have been lost as a result of a gambling addiction. Not everyone is at risk, of course. The majority of people can gamble responsibly, but anyone with a family history of gambling or a habit formed at a young age is at risk.
Playing online slots or buying a Lotto scratch card is mostly harmless, but you have to be able to walk away. Reputable websites encourage players to set limits on how much they can spend. Ultimately, though, it is up to the player to recognise when a bit of fun becomes a risk of debt.