How British casinos enable problem gamblers
Gambling addiction is a highly serious matter, and even though the British authorities are constantly making efforts to help players, casinos are more interested in keeping them around. Their methods of attracting and retaining customers are enabling gambling addicts. So, let’s talk about what gambling addiction actually looks like, how casinos enable problem gamblers, and how you can play safely!
What gambling addiction looks like
Gambling is definitely an enjoyable activity to many people, but keeping it in the leisure zone may be harder for some than for others. That is why some players develop a gambling addiction, and some do not. However, not all of them are aware that their behaviour shows signs of addiction.
Who can get addicted to gambling
Players have different approaches when it comes to playing casino games, and how prone they are to get addicted may vary depending on various factors. Those who generally have a hard time controlling their impulses will be drawn to play more than they can afford or for longer than they have initially planned. Over a long enough period of time, this behaviour leads to gambling addiction.
Problem gambling signs can appear at any age. According to Statista, a survey conducted in March 2021 in the United Kingdom shows that respondents with ages between 35 and 44 consider themselves problem gamblers. This age group has the highest percentage, but the truly worrying one is the 0.4% for the 16-24 group. Even if it is illegal to gamble in the UK if you are not 18, many teenagers manage to create accounts and play online until their information is checked and their accounts get closed.
The signs of gambling addiction
Regardless of their age, problem gamblers show similar behaviours. If noticed quickly enough by either themselves or close friends or family, they can receive help and not become addicted to this activity. Some of the most common signs of gambling addiction include:
- Lying about gambling – one of the earliest signs of addiction is concealing how often you gamble and how much money to spend on this activity. This may come from a feeling of shame or guilt or the need to not worry the ones around you. If this is the case, it means that you already know you are doing something that negatively impacts your life, but you are still in denial;
- Constantly borrowing money – borrowing money from friends or family even if you have a stable job may signify that you are spending too much on your gambling habits. Investing more money in this leaves you without funds for essential things such as bills and other expenses. This sign may appear later on, but it is very common among problem gamblers;
- Selling personal belongings – when borrowing money is not enough or when your close ones stop lending you money in order to not enable your gambling habits, you may resort to selling your belongings. This is another sign that you are investing too much money in playing casino games, and it is negatively impacting your finances;
- Inability to stop gambling – if you repeatedly promise to your close ones or to yourself that you are going to stop gambling but keep on doing it, it is a sign that you may suffer from gambling addiction. This also shows how advanced the addiction is, and we advise you to seek professional help if you cannot control this yourself;
- Neglecting friends and family – many problem gamblers end up spending more time in the casino than they do with their partners, friends or family. Whether you do this because you spend too much time gambling or because they are not supporting your hobby, if you find yourself neglecting important people in your life for the sake of playing casino games, it is a sign you have to look for a better and healthier way to spend your free time;
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms – if you managed to stop gambling and are experiencing withdrawal symptoms is another sign that you are suffering from gambling addiction. These symptoms vary but may include depression, restlessness, irritability, anxiety and changes in your appetite, sleep pattern, and even sex drive or work performance.
How casinos enable gambling addicts
Land-based and online casinos have their own strategies to attract and keep players entertained. While these may not be unethical, they can enable gambling addicts and prevent them from quitting. Here are the most popular ways gaming halls and sites make you keep on playing.
No windows or clocks
Land-based casinos are known for not having any windows or clocks. While this contributes to the creation of the nightclub atmosphere most gaming halls have, this choice has another purpose – preventing the player from realizing how much time they spent gambling.
Since you cannot see a clock on the wall or how it gets darker outside, it is easy to lose track of time, especially since the activity is a fast-paced one. The chatter, the music, the game sounds, and the overall atmosphere are meant to keep you entertained, and you will not feel the hours pass. This means that you will keep on playing and spending money.
Lighting and sound
There are many similarities between a nightclub or a bar’s atmosphere and the one in a brick-and-mortar casino. The lights are dim, but you will see flashes of lights from the games’ screens, and even if the music is not loud, the chatter is. This is perfect for a fast-paced environment where players enjoy their time and move from one game to another.
The music is carefully chosen so that you will not notice how the tracks change. They usually are upbeat songs with little to no lyrics and which change seamlessly. This is very important because it is another way in which casinos try to make you lose track of time. If you could notice when the songs change, you would be able to tell how many times that happened recently and have an idea of how much time has passed.
Of course, most of us wear watches or have a smartphone on us at all times, so we can check the time at any moment. However, everything around you is made to distract you, and by the time you remember to check the time, you have already been absorbed for longer than you thought.
Free drinks and meals
Many casinos offer complimentary drinks and even meals. This is especially common in resorts, but the big and well-known gambling halls do that as well. While you may think this is a very nice gesture from the casino where you have wagered your funds, there is a hidden agenda behind it.
You may either get these for free or have the option to buy and have them right there because the casino does not want you to leave. Therefore, it puts at your disposal everything you need to satisfy your basic needs, such as thirst and hunger, so you can grab a bite and then go back to playing. Otherwise, you would have to go out and look for a restaurant. Once out, you may consider not returning and calling it a night, something that the operator does not want you to do.
Aside from these, some casinos even offer rooms to their customers. So, this allows you to relax and enjoy your time without worrying about getting home because you can get a room with the casino and get some rest when you are done playing.
Some gaming halls are too small to allow a particular design, but the bigger ones have everything placed in the perfect spot after thorough planning. You may notice that the slot machine area has a maze-like layout with slot machines on all sides and narrow hallways between them.
You may think this is their way of making the most out of the available floor space, but that is not the case. Once you are in that floor area, you are surrounded by games and other players. While you are bombarded by the sounds and flashing lights from all the slot machines around you, you are also sitting close to other players. This allows you to hear every time they win, giving you a sense that this is a place where people win, so you will as well.
While the other strategies may seem less obvious to you, this one is very straightforward. Many casinos have ATMs placed right inside the hall. This not only enables you to spend more than you have planned but, just like in the case of the drinks and meals, they do not want you to leave the place to get more cash.
Everything is conveniently at your disposal, and the sole purpose of all these is not to spoil you or make things easier for you but to delay as much as possible the moment you leave the casino.
Player points and VIP program
To convince you to come back and play again, a casino may offer you player points. These are loyalty points that you can use to buy drinks and other items. For the online casinos, this is the VIP program, which gives you various benefits and perks as you level up. You level up by wagering more money, so even if it seems like they are helping you, you are actually helping them make more profit.
Gaming sites can even have a game-like VIP program that only keeps you interested in the benefits it comes with, but it also is entertaining and makes you constantly aim for the next level. The more you spend, the more perks you receive, and you can quickly lose track of how much you have spent to get to a certain level.
Subliminal messages are supposed to be less obvious, but casinos place them right in your face. However, you may not think of them as subliminal messages because they fit the context. We are talking about pictures of happy players who have won or simply the words “win” and “jackpot” on games’ screens and posters.
These create an atmosphere that makes you feel like a winner or makes you think about the possibility of winning. This pushes you to play more and spend more money.
There was, however, a case of genuinely subliminal messages in some slot machines in Canada back in 2007. They had to be removed after they were caught flashing jackpot symbols only for a fraction of a second, something players did not notice. Even if this was deemed a glitch by the maker, they were considered to be subliminal messages meant to make players feel like they are about to win the jackpot.
The sense of control
Casino games are different, and while some rely entirely on luck, others allow you to have a sense of control. This mostly happens with table games, but some players also think they have the perfect strategy for slots. There is no way to predict or influence the outcome of a slot machine spin, but some gamers think they have it all figured out. This gives them a false sense of control and keeps them playing.
For the table games, this is even more common. There are, indeed, strategies one may use when playing Roulette, Poker, and even Blackjack, but no strategy is failproof. They can help you to a certain extent, but no one can ever truly be in control of the outcome of a casino game without cheating.
The idea that you control the game and that your actions make a difference keeps you playing even after losing a few rounds. And that is precisely what the casinos want. In the case of problem gamblers, this feeling is amplified and can push them to act impulsively and blow through their budget in a couple of minutes.
Since online casinos do not have a physical space to keep you in and apply many of the abovementioned strategies, they had to find something that can keep you logged in for longer and make deposits after deposits. In this case, the promotions they offer are meant to attract players and keep them entertained.
While casino bonuses are indeed fun and quite lucrative, they are dangerous for problem gamblers. Some deals sound too good to be ignored, so many players who are struggling with gambling addiction end up coming back to online casinos because of a great promotion they receive by email. Casinos even send text messages to their customers, so it is relatively easy for them to reach you.
In addition, online gambling platforms are known to send special promotions to inactive players in an effort to convince them to come back and gamble. This is how they can easily enable a player who is trying to quit gambling.
Therefore, a good thing to do if you conclude that you may be a problem gambler is to close all your casino accounts and unsubscribe from the mailing list.
UK’s measures to protect problem gamblers
The United Kingdom government takes protecting problem gamblers very seriously, as their number grew over the years. A YouGov survey conducted in 2020 states that there could be 1.4 million problem gamblers across the UK, with around 280,000 in England alone. This is a huge number, and only about 3% of them get help. This means that the rest either are not aware of their problem, or they ignore it and are persuaded by the casinos’ marketing strategies to keep on coming back and playing more.
To fight underage gambling, casino operators are not allowed to advertise in any media where more than one quarter of the audience is under 18 years old. Even more, the United Kingdom Gambling Commission is stringent when it comes to how the casino ads should be in order to comply with the Advertising Standards Authority’s Advertising Codes. These state that an ad should not:
- Show anyone that is under 25 or appears to be under 25 in a context in which they are gambling or playing a significant role in the ad;
- Suggest the idea that one may fix their financial problems through gambling;
- Link gambling to attractiveness, sexual or social success, or seduction;
- Use any element of youth culture to appeal to young audiences, which includes cartoon-like images and logos, and other such items;
- Condone, encourage, or portray a socially irresponsible gambling behaviour or one that can lead to financial, emotional, or social harm;
- Exploit the credulity, susceptibilities, or lack of knowledge and experience of young and vulnerable persons.
How to gamble responsibly
Gambling responsibly is how you stay away from gambling addiction, so it is essential to know a few simple responsible gambling rules. Here are the most important ones:
- Only gamble with a budget – whenever you decide to enjoy a gambling session, be it online or in a physical casino, set a budget and stick to it. Make sure the amount is one that you afford to lose, in case it is not your lucky day and do not go over it for any reason. Also, it is a good idea that if you make some winnings from your budget, cash it out and take it instead of using it to gamble more. Keeping a fixed budget allows you to never go overboard or be carried away by the illusion of easy money;
- Limit your gaming sessions – you can set time and money limits to your gambling sessions. Many online casinos offer you this feature which allows you to set a specific deposit limit and set a timeframe. When the time expires, you will be notified, and you can then finish your game and log out. Alternatively, you can apply these yourself by deciding on a start and finish time and a budget. If your run out of funds before the time runs out, you simply stop gambling at that point. If you have more funds by the time your session is over, leave it in your account for future sessions or cash it out;
- Keep gambling as a leisure activity – there is a fine line between fun and addiction when it comes to gambling, and this is crossed when the activity switches from a means to have fun to a means to make money. While this is safe for professional players, for regular players, it may quickly lead to addiction. Only gamble to enjoy your spare time and do not make a daily habit out of it;
- Do not use gambling to cope with emotions and problems – since gambling is such an immersive experience, some may use it to escape any problems or negative feelings they may have. This is a dangerous approach and will lead to gambling addiction sooner or later. An excellent way to avoid this is by only playing casino games when you are in a good mood and want to be entertained and not as a way to ignore certain issues you may experience;
- Pay attention to your emotions while gambling – with so many stimuli, you may have various emotions while gambling. These can range from excitement and happiness to disappointment and sadness. These are normal, as you hope for a positive outcome, and it either materializes or not. However, if you notice you have extreme emotions such as anger or anxiety or if you feel that you completely lose touch with reality when you gamble, it may be time to stop. This may lead to impulsive gambling and, sooner than later, to addiction.
Conclusions and references
Casinos can be fun for some players, but they are truly dangerous for problem gamblers. With so many ways to attract players, some less obvious than others, those who wish to quit often have a hard time doing it. Be aware at all times of your gambling behaviour, take time to observe your emotions and reactions to this activity, and try to keep it as relaxed as possible. If you notice gambling negatively affects your emotions, state of mind, financial and personal life, or even work performance, consider quitting or seeking professional help!
Below, you can find the resources we have used to obtain information for this guide:
- 10 Menacing Ways Casinos Keep You Gambling
- Tricks of the Trade: How Casinos Enable Gambling Addiction… And How to Stop
- How casinos enable gambling addicts
- UK gambling addiction much worse than thought, says survey
- Distribution of problem gamblers in the United Kingdom (UK) as of March 2021, by age
- Gambling advertising: how is it regulated?