Record numbers of women are becoming addicted to gambling, statistics show.
There has been a year-on-year increase of 132% in women reaching out for help over their betting habits. But gambling charity Gordon Moody estimates that just 3% of female addicts are seeking help.
It revealed the figures just months before it is due to open the world’s first women-only residential treatment centre in the Midlands.
Matthew Hickey, the charity’s chief executive, told how in recent years, there has been a huge rise in the number of adverts for online gambling sites aimed specifically at women.
He said: “Covid has highlighted a crisis which needs urgent attention.
“There’s little doubt that women suffer even more than men from the guilt and shame surrounding gambling addiction, which is why we need to get the message out that the support is there.”
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A YouGov survey, carried out last month for gambling awareness charity GamCare, showed women are 30% more likely to play ‘instant win’ games, equally likely to gamble online as men and three times more likely to play bingo.
Public Health England also reports that while 0.5% of Brits are problem gamblers, 7% are negatively affected – equivalent to five million people.
Stacey Goodwin knows only too well the damage gambling can cause. The 29-year-old once lost £50,000 in just six days after being lured into the betting world by £1 slot machines.
Stacey, who worked in a betting shop, says she originally swore never to start gambling. But at the age of 19, she decided to have a flutter.
“Before I knew it, my life was in tatters,” Stacey said.
“I’d regularly gamble away my entire month’s wages on pay day, took out massive loans I could never hope to repay and considered taking my own life. It seemed the only way out.”
With support from her mum, Stacey started attending Gamblers Anonymous groups, but said: “Everyone there seemed to be a middle-aged man. I felt I was in the wrong place.”
Three years ago, Stacey contacted Gordon Moody and went on a four-day rehab retreat which she says “changed everything”.
“I came to understand my triggers, accepted my addiction and developed tools to help me recover,” she said.
“It wasn’t easy, but the counsellors didn’t make me feel ashamed.”
Now in recovery, and with the help of Gamban software blocking gambling apps and websites on her phone, Stacey openly talks about her journey on TikTok – using the handle Good Girl Gambler.
Stacey, from Chesterfield, Derbys, said: “I get 40 to 50 messages every day from women gamblers asking for help. They simply don’t know where else to turn.
“It was two full years after my rehab retreat before I actually opened up about my own addiction.
“It’s only now, with fresh eyes, that I can see how so much of the gambling industry is aimed at women, with ‘pink’ bingo and female characters in online gambling games. It’s a multi-billion-pound industry that knows exactly what it’s doing.”
Stacey thinks one of the reasons women are reluctant to talk about gambling is because few female celebrities have spoken publicly about it.
“You have dozens of footballers, snooker players, you name it… they’re all men. A woman gambler develops a gambling addiction and thinks they’re the odd-one-out,” she said.
“There must be hundreds of famous women out there who have blown everything gambling. The fact they’re hiding their addiction adds to the problem.”
GamStop, which launched its free tool to block gambling on mobile devices in 2018, reported its 250,000th user last week.
More than a third of those signed up to the software are women.
Addictions counsellor Steve Pope has seen a 400% increase in the number of women reaching out to him since the pandemic began.
He also told how gambling addiction has the highest attempted suicide rate of any addiction, at 82%.
“It’s because it’s so easy to hide,” he said.
“When things unravel, addicts feel a crushing sense of guilt and shame.
“It’s a buzz which unlike alcohol or drugs seems to be harmless, so a mum at home with the kids has a flutter online and before she knows it, she’s blown her Universal Credit and can’t pay the bills.”
Rebecca Sparkes, a psychotherapist specialising in addiction, told how women gamblers had previously been put off by the male-dominated environments of betting shops, but that had “completely changed”.
She said: “Since the pandemic, more women have used online gambling sites – not because other activities have been unavailable, but as a way of alleviating stress.
“One client tells me she ‘goes into a complete fantasy world’ while gambling. It’s an easy and seemingly risk-free escape from a difficult reality.”
‘I had no whereto live and two kids, but I still couldn’t stop’
Mum-of-two Lisa Walker managed to hide the extent of her gambling addiction from her husband – even on her wedding night four years ago.
While Gary and all the guests drank champagne, teetotal Lisa rushed straight to the casino.
Lisa, 49, said: “I’d engineered things so we got married in Las Vegas but all I had in mind was hitting the roulette wheel.
“I blew thousands. I even called the UK for a £2,000 payday loan.”
Back home, Lisa rang her son Danny to ask for help paying off the loan. But within 30 minutes, she spent all the money he gave her at a betting shop.
“That, for me was rock-bottom,” Lisa said.
“After decades of gambling, lying and cheating, I knew I had to get help.”
Lisa, of Rainham, East London, had started gambling when she was just eight, playing cards during break times at school for money.
For her 18th birthday, her dad took her to a casino – but it wasn’t until Lisa was 29 that her gambling got out of control.
She recalled: “I went to the Rendezvous Casino in Southend where I got a Royal Flush and won £127,000.
“Instead of paying off my mortgage, which I could’ve done twice over, I couldn’t resist the buzz of the casino and wasted it all.”
Even with Danny and her disabled daughter Georgia to look after, the then-single mum couldn’t stop – and in 2012, Lisa declared herself bankrupt, having remortgaged her house three times and lost around £500,000.
She said: “I was homeless with two kids and even then, I was still gambling.”
Lisa attended her first Gamblers Anonymous meeting in 2018 and last month, she started a new job at gambling charity, Bet Know More.
She has even secured the funding to start her own women gamblers’ support group, called New Beginnings.
Lisa said: “Every single person knows of a problem gambler who is hiding their addiction. If by telling my story I can help just one woman get her life back, it will be worth it.”
‘I became so hooked, I even gambled at a friend’s funeral’
Working for a charity supporting drug and alcohol addicts didn’t stop Kerri Nicolls from getting hooked on gambling – and she didn’t recognise her own addiction until years later.
Kerri, 39, said: “Just over 10 years ago I decided to put a £1 bet on a football match – and won. I was pretty much hooked from then.”
Kerri was then offered a ‘free’ £200 credit with Bet365 and went on to download several betting apps on her phone.
“I was taking out loans and maxing out credit cards, hiding my losses, always desperate to claw them all back,” Kerri said.
“I was so hooked, I even gambled at a friend’s funeral.”
In 2013, she persuaded her partner to take out a £12,000 loan to help her clear her ‘student debt’ – but it was just a ruse to get more money to gamble with.
Within two years, she had accrued £45,000 of debt and was forced to admit she had a problem.
Her dad agreed to pay off the money in the form of a loan – but Kerri was offered more credit so continued gambling, betting £5,000 a time on sporting events worldwide.
When the truth about her addiction eventually came out, Kerri’s relationship collapsed and she moved back home, where she suffered from suicidal thoughts.
Her mum insisted Kerri visited her GP, who referred her to a crisis team. She also then joined Gamblers Anonymous, started a peer support programme at GamCare and sought help from Gordon Moody.
In 2019, Kerri, from North Devon, got a job as a peer support worker with the charity. “I know how coming forward as a woman with a gambling addiction can be hard,” she said.
“I felt I’d never be able to stop but I’m stronger now and happier than I’ve ever been. Sure, I lost over £100,000, but now I have a new partner, a job that’s rewarding beyond measure – and I’m alive.”
■ For help, call 01384 241292 or visit gordonmoody.org.uk. Alternatively call 0808 8020 133 or see gamcare.org.uk. Download gambling-limiting software for free on any smartphone or laptop at gamstop.co.uk