Gambling With Our Mental Health
Gambling With Our Mental Health
Wild Casino

Earlier this year the government recognised the harms associated with these particular products by introducing an online slots maximum stake of £2 for under 25s and £5 for those over. Stakes were previously uncapped, and remain so for online casino games, which will instead be limited to one spin every 5 seconds.

These measures are a step in the right direction, but they will not sufficiently curtail the harm associated with such accessible, addictive games. For the first time in human history, we have placed slots, roulette, and blackjack on devices people carry everywhere with them. Gambling apps optimise inducements like bonus offers and free spins through push notifications and well-timed emails to either keep you engaged or get you back to their platform. There is no longer friction between the decision to gamble and the action of doing so. For decades, these products were confined to casinos; now they are promoted as something you might do on your commute to work.

In far too many cases, the resulting mental ill-health has led to suicide. While we regularly acknowledge that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 40, it’s less well known that between 4 and 11 percent of suicides are gambling-related — equating to as many as 496 deaths a year.

At the recent inquest into the suicide of Jack Ritchie, who tragically took his life as a result of a gambling addiction, Dr Matt Gaskell spoke about the huge impact gambling has on the brain. While the perception of gambling-related suicide is that it results from stress or debt, it’s clear that gambling itself causes shifts in brain chemistry. Major changes take place as addiction develops. That’s why higher-risk gambling behaviours enabled by rapid online slots and casino content are associated with a higher risk of suicidality, and those with a gambling disorder are six times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and fifteen times more likely to make an attempt on their own life — a risk of suicide higher than any other addiction.

There are tools out there to help combat this reality. Software like Gamban, which I co-founded, blocks access to gambling sites and apps on devices (you can get it for free through Signing up to GAMSTOP will also prevent you from opening an account with any licensed gambling operator. But when it comes to preventing addiction, we have to look at the industry as much as the individual. While gambling companies place the onus on consumers, urging them to ‘gamble responsibly’ or ‘Take Time To Think’, they fall short of explaining what responsible consumption might actually look like — perhaps because doing so would mean deterring people from their lucrative online casinos.

888 were recently the subject of a backlash against advertisements on London’s public transport network that used slogans such as ‘This carriage is now a casino’. This would not have happened had Mayor Sadiq Khan made good on his last manifesto pledge to ban gambling advertising on TfL. If we can’t run advertising campaigns to suppress participation in the most harmful forms of gambling, the very least we can do is stop it being encouraged for profit. For the sake of Mental Health Awareness Week and all those struggling, let’s end the promotion of products that are disproportionately harming our mental health.