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Gambling: The addiction which is being ignored

Publication: Greater Govanhill

Gambling cartoon - house of cards
Illustrations by Giacinta Frisillo | Licensed for use on Scottish Beacon | All rights reserved

Picture this. It’s Saturday night, the rain is pouring down, and the shop begins to fill up fast with people from all walks of life ready to lose a couple of hundred pounds. The night is mostly people placing bets on races of £20 a go, alongside the automated spins set up on the ‘puggy’ (slot machine) with an occasional look up to see if they’ve hit the jackpot.

Gambling cartoon - jackpot

I worked as a bookmaker in Glasgow City Centre for over two years, mostly evenings and weekends whilst I studied for my degree. The customers came in all shapes and forms. We had the angry ones, eager to frame their loss as my problem. There were the flirters, using charm to distract from their recent losses on football predictions. Then we had the regulars, the everyday visitors who sat in the same seats, every day, to fill out their ‘Lucky 15’ bet.

Whilst there were a lot of men, there was a fair share of women too. Some carried stacks of pounds in a lunch bag ready to play a fishing game for hours, and there were those who would pop in after a three hour cleaning shift, looking for a bit of escape.

It’s easy to judge the people that came into the bookies, but the reality is gambling, like alcohol or substances, is an addiction. The customers had reasons for being there, often rooted in wider economic and societal issues.

For the regulars, the bookies was often a place to counter loneliness, where spending time watching horses was better than being alone at home. The reality for many customers was that either their work was so demotivating they couldn’t bear to be there, or that their addiction had become so bad, it was just a temptation to run back to gamble what they could.

Gambling cartoon - banana slip

Similarly, with those who would bet hard and fast with seconds to go before the end of a match or race – the possibilities of winning were just too much not to bet. The truth is that many weren’t able to stop themselves. Gambling wasn’t fun anymore. It was a constant chase to get back what they’d lost, and part of this would be by deceiving people, making their own handwriting illegible so that money could be chased whether it was a win or a loss.

Some people would wait outside the shop asking for change, which would be gambled away within seconds. For the women with stacks of money, it was often related to criminal activities, where women would be unsuspected targets for money laundering.. And lastly, the women who came in after a short shift, they had barely any time for themselves, life would be caught up in providing for others and household duties and gambling was just a chance for a bit of escapism, but one that came at a price.

It’s easy to stereotype people who gamble. But there are vulnerabilities, social issues and health issues all affecting these individuals and their gambling habits. With Glasgow City having the highest concentration of betting shops in the UK, I can understand the temptation. Some bookies in Glasgow open as early as 7am and are open as late as 10pm. The only place that isn’t a restaurant operating those hours is a supermarket, and they’re providing an essential of food. Moreover, these gambling shops are placed tactically to attract customers, in areas with higher deprivation so there’s easy access.

Gambling cartoon - wheel of fortune

It’s not our place to pass judgement on people with gambling addictions. We must critically assess the lack of support and prevention in place to limit gambling. Why has this industry not been tackled, but moreover why is it becoming more and more accessible whilst it sucks people’s lives away? You don’t need to just step into bookies to gamble. Oh no, it’s much easier than that. You can now pick up a card at the till of a shop without even stating the stake or type of lottery ticket you want. Or if that’s not easy enough, you can gamble from the comfort of your bed on an app you can register within five minutes. The nation has normalised gambling from a young age. It starts with flashy lights in arcades and the chance of winning some cheap toy flushing pocket money until the tub is empty

In relation to Glasgow specifically, Glasgow City Council in 2019 found that gambling affects adolescents more than smoking or drinking alcohol. The effects of gambling are so vast, that it really should be treated as what it is – a public health issue.. For many, gambling may start off as a bit of fun, but it’s linked to poverty, depression, loneliness, lack of motivation at work and crime. People are targeted by gambling companies, eager to cash in on their vulnerability, and at the moment no one seems to have the power or will to stop them.

When working in the bookies, it would take a loss of £10,000 before we would approach a customer to ask if they were okay, and this would only occur due to the big red sign on screen.

Interview with Kelly and Martin from The Machine Zone

I spoke to two ex gamblers, to get a perspective into the harms which gambling had had and their views on how we can tackle them. Both Martin Paterson and Kelly Field feature in a powerful short documentary called One Last Spin, which was created by community interest company co-founded by Martin; The Machine Zone. You can learn more about the film by visiting

Do you think that wider intervention from the government is required to limit gambling harms?

Martin: Definitely. The government should have regulated the industry a long time ago to keep up to date with the digital online harms gambling can cause.

Kelly: Yes there should be much more intervention. The industry is a business but doesn’t follow their duty of care. The industry is allowed to bombard the young and vulnerable via TV, radio and social media.

As an ex gambler, what was it that made you think I had to stop?

M: Trauma made me realise I had to stop. Family tragedy made me realise I had not been a good father or husband. It was irrational thinking that a win would solve all our financial woes – it never did, it just got worse.

K: For me like with any addiction, I hit my own rock bottom. I was emotionally, physically and psychologically exhausted. I had maxed out five credit cards and lost thousands. I was suicidal and my mental health was in the gutter.

What types of factors led you to gamble originally?

M: Everybody gambled on football or horses, so when I started it was deemed normal and embedded into society. There are no health warnings of the dangers.

K: I started to gamble while dealing with a work-related grievance. It was escapism from reality. Quickly I had crossed the invisible line of addiction. The adverts on TV target women during the day with bingo..

What are the stereotypes you think people who are gambling are pictured as?

M: The public misunderstands gambling addiction.It’s seen as greed because no substance is involved as such but the brain is being hijacked and hacked. For example, A lady leaving the bingo hall is nothing unusual, But if she is suffering from gambling harm nobody would know. An old guy leaving the bookies beaten and broken would get not much sympathy. Society and the gambling industry put the onus onto the individual, ‘nobody made you do it’, – that sort of thing.

K: It is seen as a male-dominated addiction. Support services are male-dominated, but games and products are targeted at males and females. Bingo is all singing, all dancing community-based gambling.

Speaking first-hand to people who have gambled has highlighted the joy, normalisation and targeting that the gambling industry partakes in to lure people into gambling. It is evident that although there are perceptions of self-fulfilment and indulgence from people engaging in gambling, there is a targeted easy access to gambling and a lack of responsibility when harms are evident.

This multi-part feature produced by our team is paid for by the Glasgow Gambling Harms Fund available from the Glasgow Council of Voluntary Services (GCVS) as part of a pathfinder project to support the delivery of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms in Scotland and the Public Health Priorities.

Next: In remembrance: Duncan Campbell

by Paul Fisher Cockburn, C&B News