Back in the seventies, I got a job as a board marker in a bookies close to the place where I lived as a student. While most students I knew were doing some sort of bar or restaurant work, I spent Saturday afternoon in a smoky port-a- cabin, dog-ends littering the floor, listening to the horse and dog racing news coming through crackly speakers.
My job was to mark the racing odds on the pre-printed sheets as soon as the betting came in. You had to be nimble and on the ball at all times as the punters, all male, would be watching my every move. They were quick to point out if I made a mistake and as the race started, the tension mounted. Whilst I saw many regulars, who always had a kind word to say to me, I can’t recall any real addicts. Just a few sad, lonely people looking for company and a boost to their income.
There are a number of differences between gambling back in those days, compared with now. People had to make an effort to get to a physical location to place their bets whereas now they can gamble online.
Women were more into bingo than card games or horse racing. I spent many evenings as either a ticket seller or a caller in the dark hallowed halls of the magic balls. It wasn’t so much about winning for these women, but having a social life – a chance to get out of the house for an evening and have fun. It was also self-limiting.
Gambling has taken on a new dimension and is showing its sinister side. You don’t have to leave the sofa to lose hundreds of pounds by tapping an App and it seems to be women who are getting hooked.
Some find it gives them a buzz – well of course it will. I find slotting pennies into the Penny Falls in an amusement arcade gives me a two second thrill but I know when to stop.
Others, already depressed and anxious, maybe because of debt, see it as a way out of their problems. Because all gambling outlets are rigged against the punter, after the first euphoric win we call beginner’s luck, the only trajectory is down.
The fantasy of winning millions and starting afresh is just that – fantasy. Like Kitty Merriweather in my new book, Love Bytes Back, I’ve come across all sorts of lonely women comforting themselves with the odd flutter that becomes an addiction. Huge sums of money disappear into the greedy gob of online poker and before you know it, homes, relationships and families are lost to its powerful grip.
According to GamCare, the national gambling helpline, the number of women gamblers is double that of men and 70% of women use Apps and websites so they can do it in secret. Women don’t go into shady betting shops, even in the twenty-first century, and I doubt I would have done if it had not been my job. Thankfully, I don’t have an addictive personality.
I personally know of one woman who spent over a hundred thousand pounds on gambling. It was all she ever thought about – a bit like an alcoholic. Her debts mounted and she resorted to stealing. When she was caught, it was a huge relief as it meant she could get the help she was too ashamed to ask for.
Women who gamble occasional say they do it because it numbs emotional pain for a while. I guess it’s like retail therapy. You get the rush and forget about your struggles until reality hits home and maybe you end up taking most of the stuff back for a refund. That’s better than losing money for a quick mental health fix.
Some sites offer free bets for a period to hook you in. When you get a taste of any drug there is a strong chance you’ll want more and more.
If this blog has resonated with you, contact Gamblers Anonymous and or Gam Care. Don’t feel ashamed. It can happen to anyone. Remember, you deserve to be free.