In a four-part series, the GI Huddle focused on a vital topic that sits at the heart of both the gambling industry and gambling itself: problem gambling. In part one, we spoke with Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, about the state of responsible gambling in North America. For part two, we interviewed transformative therapist Jason Shiers about the psychological aspect of problem gambling. Later, Perrin Carey, independent analyst and former chief risk and compliance officer at Stride Gaming, spoke to us about organisational culture and compliance. Here, we gain unique insight from Gordon Moody Association interim CEO Matthew Hickey, about the rise of female problem gambling.
Recently, you announced that you’ll open the world’s first women-only gambling treatment centre. Could you tell us more about what you’ve been working on at the Gordon Moody Association?
Gordon Moody is a residential treatment organisation that delivers support for those most in crisis with their gambling addiction. We are now 50 years old this year, as we head into 2021, and since the beginning, we’ve been delivering support predominantly for men. What we have seen over the last few years in particular is that more women are coming to the fore in needing support in dealing with their addiction. This year, after working with a number of organisations over the last year, we will be launching – depending on COVID-19 – the first women’s residential treatment centre for those who have been affected by gambling addiction; but also those who have affected others.
It’s very interesting to hear specifically about women problem gambling because, as you’ve said, treatment traditionally targets men. Can you tell us about recent figures that have shown female problem gambling is on the rise?
In terms of women and what we’ve seen over the last 12 to 18 months, there’s a substantial increase in the number of women reaching out to us for support. That has increased three-fold year-on-year. What we’re seeing is that more women have been affected by their addiction; more women are therefore in crisis, reaching out saying that they need to do something about their addiction. Not at a low level but at the point of saying, “This is a really serious problem; it is destroying my life.” As a result, we have worked over the last 12 months on putting in place the right funding package to roll out this service.
Particularly since COVID-19 hit in February last year, we really have seen the number of calls from women increase, from probably 5% to now over 30%. We’re seeing those women being more in crisis. Rather than calling and saying, “I could really do with some help,” they’re saying, “I am about to commit suicide and what can you do to help me?” We have a waiting list of women waiting to come into our services and we hope this treatment centre will have a real effect on those who need support. What I’m most fearful of is that we’re overwhelmed with applications. It’s brilliant that we get to open this service but maybe the floodgates will open. That is a positive, though, in that we can start doing more in providing the right sorts of services for women.
That certainly paints a drastic picture, especially the figures of 5% to over 30%. Is this new clinic for women something that was already in the works and accelerated by the pandemic, or is this more in response to a real recent surge?
We’ve been running a short-term women’s programme for the past couple of years, which was a weekend retreat with virtual support between time. What we’ve been noticing is that more women need a full-on break, to break the cycle of their addiction and do so through a residential treatment place. The profile of women is changing in that more women are severely affected by their gambling addictions, so therefore we need to open a residential facility to help them.
I don’t think it will be a 14-week programme like we have for our male residents. I think it’ll be a shorter-term programme because women’s needs are different to men. Jane Fahy, who works for us and does a substantial amount of work with women, would say women are very good at keeping calm when all around them is falling apart, whereas a man becomes very selfish and can only concentrate on himself. A woman would put others first even while suffering, making sure the children are washed and fed, and the electricity is still on, whereas a man may not. So it may be a lot easier for a man to give up his life, and come and stay with us for 14 weeks; it’s a lot more difficult for women because they have more people who rely on them. Therefore, it will be a different sort of model in that respect. But we really have seen an increase in the demand for residential support.
Gordon Moody trustee Annika Lindberg has said there’s been a rise in gambling advertising specifically targeting women. What’s your take on the current level of advertising and what percentage of it is aimed at women specifically?
I think the way the adverts have been structured is that, for women, it’s about escapism. It’s about escaping the potential monotony they see every day. For an evening they can get together socially online – that’s the kind of design. And I think for the vast majority of people, that works; they are able to cope with that, whereas those who have real underlying issues need to be able to know when to stop. I think that’s where the struggle really comes to the fore; some aren’t able to know when to stop and, therefore, they carry on and it then becomes more of an issue. I’m drilling it down to its basic level because each individual is completely different. There are stories I hear of various ladies who have become addicted to gambling for completely different reasons. One may want to try and break out of the social disadvantage she’s in, and therefore she starts on lottery scratchcards and online bingo. Or there may have been a bereavement in the family – it all depends on the individual. To talk about everyone in the same way really dilutes the picture.