While opening the gambling market to female participants is on the whole a positive, it has a downside as well.
For the most part, growing female participation in gambling activities is a good thing. It opens a popular part of the entertainment industry to women whom otherwise would not have participated. It brings a new and much-needed perspective to the casino floor, online poker room and boardroom. It is beneficial to both men and women involved in the industry. Despite all of this, female gambling news is not all good news.
More women than ever are addicted to gambling. The UK Gambling Commission reports that there are between 236,000 and 368,000 “problem” gamblers in Britain. While estimates vary on the precise number of women in this group, charity support groups (who provide much of the data used to measure gambling addiction) report that the amount of women seeking help is increasing daily.
A report by the Guardian estimated that 25 percent of all problem gamblers in Britain are women. With regards to online gambling, the proportion of women could be significantly higher. And by no means is this a uniquely British problem; reports indicate that addiction among females is rising in Europe and North America as well.
Traits of a female gambler
• It is estimated that 25 percent of problem gamblers in the UK are women
• Women tend to engage in “escape gambling,” using the activity as means to relieve stress and escape from problems, not to win money
• Most online casinos specialize in escape gambling games such as slots and bingo
Both men and women alike tend to undergo spikes in dopamine (the neurotransmitter which causes pleasure) while gambling. While it is not believed that women are more susceptible to gambling than men, women tend to develop the addiction quicker. Most women who become gambling addicts develop a problem within one year of starting, compared to four years for men.
Most men experiment with gambling before the age of 20. For many men, gambling for the first time is a right of passage. Whether it involves sports betting, poker or casino table games, men tend to view it as a competitive activity by which they can use their skills to win money. This is referred to as “action gambling.” Traditionally, psychologists specializing in gambling addiction focused on this.
However, during the 1990s more helplines began reporting a type of addiction that didn’t fit this mold. These gamblers are more concerned with escaping their everyday problems and stresses than with winning money, hence the term “escape gambling” was first used in 1992. Escape gambling is primarily associated with women, although many men have been reported to show the same behavior.
Most women gamble for the first time when they are over 25. Rather than a competitive activity, many female gamblers view it as a source of entertainment and social interaction. Most online casinos in the UK and elsewhere cater to females by offering escape gambling games such as slots and bingo.
Women less likely to seek help
Women tend to have a more difficult time bringing themselves to admit to having a problem and seek help. This is because gambling is still associated with men, and there is a stronger stigma attached to women developing gambling addiction. Friends and family members are usually not surprised when a man admits to having a problem. As female addiction is a relatively new social phenomenon, it is difficult to predict the reactions of others.
Because women are generally viewed as wives and mothers responsible for keeping families together, communities tend to be less forgiving to female addicts. This applies to other addictions like drugs and alcohol, but is especially true for gambling.
For this reason women invest more energy in concealing the problem, often refusing help until they have hit rock bottom. The development of internet gambling in the UK and elsewhere has made it easier to hide a gambling problem, making the situation worse. Women can gamble online during the day or during free time in the evening rather than travel to a casino. In many cases family members are not aware that they are engaging in gambling at all.
What can be done?
Treatment options are out there in the form of support groups and rehabilitation centers. There are also free 24/7 helplines in the US, UK and Europe which gambling addicts can turn to for advice.
In the US, states with legalized gambling set a proportion of public revenue aside to fund treatment programs. This has become especially important as American gambling laws have been revised to allow states to create legal online gambling markets.
However, many experts on addiction argue that states should to do more to raise awareness of the treatment options available. Some even argue that gambling as a social ill should be placed on the same level as alcohol and drug addiction. In addition to funding rehab centers and helplines, states should invest heavily in educating children and adolescents on the risks of gambling. These educational programs must be careful not to shame or stigmatize problem gamblers, discouraging them from seeking help.
Quitting gambling can also be difficult because addicts are expected to quit “cold turkey,” where in other addictions it is often accepted to users to wean themselves off of an activity or substance. The fact that gamblers are usually told to quit the activity immediately and completely discourages some from seeking help.
While admitting a problem and seeking help can seem frightening, treatment options are available everywhere. No gambler, male or female, should ever fear the consequences of coming forward with their problems. It is much better to face the stigma and seek help early on than conceal the problem and risk losing financial security and the trust of family and friends.