Supporting a Problem Gambler

Gambling in the UK

Gambling is an exciting form of entertainment and risk-taking that is popular with the majority of men, women and young people.

Opportunities to gamble are widely available. As well as the more traditional places to gamble, such as betting shops, amusement arcades and casinos, you will find fruit machines in most pubs, and in many cafés, take-aways, cinemas, leisure centres, railway and bus stations. Your local corner shop, newsagent, supermarket or post office is likely to sell lottery tickets and scratchcards. Nearly all forms of gambling are available through new technology, e.g. Internet and WAP phones.

Age and the Law

Slot machines. There are three types:

(1) Fruit machines with a relatively small cash/token payout; these have no legal minimum age restriction, though many operators follow a voluntary code to partially or totally exclude those under 16 or 18;
(2) All-cash payout fruit machines; these are age restricted and located in arcades, pubs, betting offices etc;
(3) Jackpot machines; these have a much bigger payout and are restricted to over 18’s by law.

Betting, On or Off Course. 

It is illegal to allow anyone under 18 to place a bet or to enter inside a betting shop. If this were to happen, the betting shop owner and not the under-age gambler would be prosecuted.

Casinos & Bingo. It is illegal to gamble at a casino or play bingo at a licensed bingo club under the age of 18. In order to do so, you must be a club member.

Pools, the Lottery & Scratchcards. It is illegal to take part in these activities until you are 16 years old. Operators who allow under-age gambling are at risk of losing their franchise.

Problem Gambling

Most people who gamble keep control of what they are doing and remain ‘social gamblers’. However, a significant number of men, women and young people lose that control and become ‘problem gamblers’. Since there are no physical symptoms, they are not always easy to spot. Problem gamblers may not realise that they have a problem or want other people to know they gamble too much.

Some Signs to Look for...

Why is it so addictive?

It is not clearly understood why some people get addicted but three possible reasons that lead to problem gambling are:

Action: the thrill or ‘buzz’ becomes addictive and the gambler needs or wants to experience it again and again;

Escape: becoming involved in the fantasy world of gambling provides an escape from the problems and pressures of everyday life;

Beating the System: the gambler becomes absorbed in the technicalities of the gambling activity and keeps trying to beat it.


Gambling ceases to be a social activity when the gambler begins to gamble alone for long periods, and/or chases losses. Relationships with family and friends begin to break down and the gambler often becomes isolated.

Even when not gambling, the gambler spends much, if not most of his or her own time thinking about it or acquiring money to gamble. It can become a 24 hour-a-day obsession.

The problem gambler uses up his or her resources first and then starts to borrow to pay the money back. Many resort to stealing from home and some steal or commit criminal acts outside the home.

The problem gambler creates plausible and complex stories. They become expert liars to explain away the lack of money, the need to get more, and to account for the time spent gambling.

They may truant from school, miss college, stay away from work, and/or neglect family. Over time this will add to the spiral of destructive behaviour and to the depression that many problem gamblers experience.

What can you do?

Get Help Now!

There are several organisations looking after players who developed a gambling problem in the UK and abroad. Here are some of the options available to players. Longer list of organisations and groups is available here.