Rapid growth of online gambling bestows a tide of troubles - Friday 14th of October 2005
Four of a kind, full house and royal flush. Such phrases are music to the ears of dedicated poker players - and now novices as the game enjoys a surge in popularity due to the proliferation of internet gambling websites.
The Gambling Commission, the independent regulator for gambling in Britain, was launched last week but will not have responsibility for the regulation of remote gambling until 2007, when the gambling bill comes to fruition.
In the meantime, according to charities and other debt specialists, the rise in popularity of online gambling is leading to a rise in the levels of unserviceable debt among participants.
The charity GamCare, which helps those who have been harmed by gambling dependency, says the average online gambling debt in 2004 was £25,676 - a rise of £5,000 from the year before, and a figure that it expects to increase further this year.
It says there are now about 1,700 gambling websites, in addition to interactive television channels and mobile phones offering gambling services.
The charity says that while it sees people addicted to all sorts of gambling, online betting has a unique set of characteristics that could lead to an increase in gambling problems and the associated debt that go with them. These include the ability to gamble 24 hours a day, the risk of access by children and the decrease in the perception of the value of cash.
Online gambling is still in its infancy and the numbers running into trouble are still low compared with more traditional gambling such as horse racing and fruit machines, says Andrew Poole, the online services coordinator at GamCare. However, we are seeing a rapid growth in online gambling debts and part of this has been down to the explosion in internet poker sites.
The online casino PartyGaming, which recently launched on the stock market, is predicting a rise in online gambling of 22 per cent a year over the next five years and a 44 per cent rise for the most popular game, poker.
Insolvency specialist The Debt Advisor says it is already seeing victims of the new trend, and believes that the rise in online betting will add to the UKs growing debt problem. It cites one client who ran up debts of £100,000 playing online poker in internet casinos.
There has always been a certain proportion of debt problems due to gambling, but the internet allows people to run up debts much more easily and much faster, says Bev Budsworth of The Debt Advisor.
Unlike traditional gambling venues, where there is very much a cash culture, online gambling relies on credit cards. Once you have registered your card details you can play for as long as your credit limit allows without breaking off to get more money.
Budsworth adds that many online gamblers follow the traditional pattern of trying to chase their debts, betting more and more heavily in an increasingly desperate attempt to win back the money to pay them off.
The rise in internet gambling means that the profile of the typical gambler is also changing. We are now seeing significant numbers of women gambling online, and part of this has been fuelled by the launch of internet bingo sites. One online gambling website provider recently told us they take more through bingo than through poker and other casino games put together, says Poole.
The internet is also introducing people to games they might not have previously engaged in and removes the stigma associated with going to the bookies. It is particularly worrying that, while most people participate in some form of gambling, it is often a social thing - whereas online gambling is done in isolation.
The Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS), a debt charity, also says it has seen increasing evidence of online gambling leading to problems. Last week it counselled a man who had run up £54,000 on 11 credit cards and loans by spreadbetting on the internet. He came to the charity once he was unable to get any more credit.
One of the problems is that online betting is an intimate activity that people can do at home with no one watching, says Jane Bellis, a debt counsellor who works with the CCCS.
She says that all the 12 counsellors in her branch have seen at least one person coming to them with internet gambling debts in the past two months. The other problem is that online gambling allows you to access your credit card account and up the limit on your card while online. One man told us that he applies for credit cards online while he is gambling.
The new legislation, to be overseen by the Gambling Commission, will bring in a number of licensing conditions for gambling websites, which will require them to demonstrate that they are operating responsibly. These will include obtaining proper verification that a gambler is over 18 and allowing gamblers to set deposit limits and time limits themselves - something some sites do already.
Bellis says it is often difficult to recommend bankruptcy to those who have run up gambling debts, as recent changes in the law mean that they could face a longer bankruptcy - up to 15 years - than those who run up debts through life problems such as redundancy or divorce. These people now only face a year as a bankrupt.
Before charities like the CCCS start giving advice, they will ask a gambler if he has started dealing with his problem - but they are always ready to offer help.
At the end of the day a debt is a debt, however it was run up, and we offer whatever advice is best to people in that position, says Bellis.
· GamCare: 0845 6000 133 www.gamcare.org.uk
· CCCS: 0800 138 1111
Debts just shot up to £60,000
Chris, a well-paid professional in his late forties, had always liked to dabble in a bit of gambling since his teenage years. However, his problem worsened over the past few years, beginning when his wife became ill and was unable to work - and when he switched to online gambling.
He started out running up debts on his credit cards, but then began to take out small loans - and as the debts mounted he tried to gamble his way out of trouble. He then attempted to consolidate his debts and before he knew it he was in debt to the tune of £60,000.
Chris now attends counselling and has stopped gambling. He has entered into an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA) with his creditors, says The Debt Advisor. This allows him to clear his debt by making fixed monthly payments over five years with the rest written off. He is forbidden from obtaining credit while he is in this arrangement and, therefore, cannot get further into debt.
How to control your gambling
Addicted to poker? GamCare recommends the following tips for those who are gambling online:
1. Keep track of the time you are playing for.
2. Only spend what you can afford to lose - remember that the numbers on screen are real money.
3. Avoid chasing your losses.
4. If you are a parent, keep your password safe and, if you wish, use software to block access to gambling sites from your children.
5. Look for sites with options where you can set your own spend and session limits.
6. If you are having a problem, then you can request to be self-excluded from the site. See www.gamblock.com for details
Other news from around the same time
Blackpool: Britains faded Vegas gambles on casino salvation - Friday 14th of October 2005
Dazzling lights, an Eiffel Tower of its own and the constant ker-ching of slot machines make Blackp....
For a million bucks, not just a token auction - Friday 14th of October 2005
Its not unusual to see chips and tokens from Nevada casinos pop up on eBay and other online auction ....
Casino di Venezia seeks new lustre with relaunch - Friday 14th of October 2005
Strange, but true. For over a year the piano nobile of the Casino di Venezia in Vittoriosa, with its....
Hurrahs Entertainment to delay plans to rebuild Gulfport casino - Friday 14th of October 2005
Harrahs Entertainment Inc. plans to build a larger casino to replace the gutted Grand Casino Biloxi,....
Ex-footy star in gambling campaign - Friday 14th of October 2005
FORMER AFL player David Schwarz has thrown his support behind a new $3.3 million State Government ca....
Gambling opponent:Halt casino expansion - Friday 14th of October 2005
Connecticut anti-gambling advocate Jeff Benedict led a national coalition Friday in calling for a tw....
$200-a-day ATM limit at gambling venues - Friday 14th of October 2005
SOUTH Australia will lead the nation in developing a code of practice for financial institutions to ....
Costello hits out at States gambling revenue dependence - Friday 14th of October 2005
The State Gambling Ministers and the Federal Community Services Minister, Kay Patterson, today agree....
Mayor moves to heal New Orleans lifeblood industry - Friday 14th of October 2005
Mayor Ray Nagin called Friday for a major expansion of casino gambling in hurricane-hit New Orleans ....
Gala buys Coral to form 4 bln stg gaming group - Friday 14th of October 2005
Gala said on Friday it was buying Coral Eurobet for 2.18 billion pounds in a deal that would merge G....