With the support of GamCare, CasinoBeats talks exclusively to a recovering problem gambler, who shares his experiences and offers a very personal perspective

Much is written and debated surrounding problem gambling, amid the growing recognition that industry wide efforts are needed to continue to implement initiatives and tools to ensure that work carried out thus far is best built upon.

But among the many influential and important voices raising the profile of problem and safer gambling, what do those in need – or those who have once found themselves requiring help and reached out – have to say?

In this first of a two-part series, CasinoBeats has worked alongside national problem gambling support charity GamCare to speak to Sean, a member of its service user panel.

The panel is a group of up to eight previous GamCare service users, who may have experience of its help line, treatment services and forum, to different degrees, and who are instrumental in shaping the services it offers.

“I have always been a strong and independent person, and for the first time I felt like a failure – but I knew that I had to change”

Sean’s story begins when the realisation dawned that help was needed, and the difficulty in opening up to those closest: “When I first realised that I was going to need help, it was a very difficult time for me. I have always been a strong and independent person, and for the first time I felt like a failure – but I knew that I had to change.

“It was very difficult opening up to my partner and my family, as I knew this was going to have a big knock-on effect with trust.

“Once I had built up the courage to tell the truth and put everything on the table with my partner, I was amazed at how understanding and supportive she was towards me – I certainly did not expect that but it made such a difference,” he says.

“The advice I would give to others is that when you realise that gambling is a problem for you, then the best thing you can do is tell the truth.

“You may be surprised how much help and support you receive from others in your life, and it will be a massive burden lifted from your shoulders as you no longer need to lie or hide anything from the people you love.”

A key part of Sean’s journey is the revelation that he had tried to stop gambling several times but returned within a few weeks or months. Why does he believe this is the case?

“When I was younger, in my early 20s, no matter how much I gambled I had always seen it as a pleasurable pastime – something I always enjoyed regardless of winning or losing.

“I think having that mindset was one of the main reasons I continuously returned to gambling, even after trying to take time away from it.”

“I tried to handle everything by myself, and I was unsuccessful at stopping gambling countless times”

However, it no longer became to be viewed as the entertaining hobby that it once was: “In my mid-20s, I did realise that gambling was no longer an enjoyable experience for me, but by this point I couldn’t help myself.

“I stopped thinking about how much I had spent and lost, and became preoccupied with a big win – I assumed that it would happen one day, if I just kept going.”

In light of this, Sean discussed what more could have been done in the form of help or treatment in the first instance: “I think that there wasn’t as clear an understanding around gambling problems or clear signposting to help for those affected at that point, but I didn’t seek help or tell anyone in my family at the time,” he explains.

“I tried to handle everything by myself, and I was unsuccessful at stopping gambling countless times. I later realised that this wasn’t going to work.

“I think there is a greater awareness of the help available now, but this definitely needs to grow – we definitely need to work together to be more open about gambling, so that anyone needing support can feel comfortable reaching out, knowing they’re in safe hands.”

When the enjoyment had gone – and that big win was being chased – talk moved on to the protocols that could have been in place, or would have been useful, particularly on the websites of operators, to raise awareness of problem gambling and prevent such problems from manifesting.

“I believe now that there are some good protocols in place at many online gambling sites, for instance reality checks, ID checks, deposit limits and possibility of affordability checks coming in,” says Sean.

“It’s essential that all gambling websites take their responsibility seriously”

Adding what needs to be done in the here and now, and the responsibility that falls at the feet of operators, he continues: “It’s essential that all gambling websites take their responsibility seriously – they need to actively monitor the way their players gamble, and take action to contact the people they are concerned about.

“I believe it makes a big difference when you hear directly from a company to check if you’re doing okay. Even if it doesn’t prompt a behaviour change immediately, it can sow the seed.

“I believe that problem gambling is slowly being recognised as a bigger issue, and that the profiles of organisations offering advice and support, like GamCare or Gamblers Anonymous, are being raised.

“Gambling companies need to do as much as they can to make information about how players can keep themselves safe, and where they can find information and advice if they need it, as accessible as possible.”