The last British Gambling Prevalence Survey to reflect the whole of the UK was published in 2010. It reported that within the period of a year, 73% of the adult population gambled regularly, and that the majority will have put a few quid on the National Lottery. I am now one of these people.
As I’m sat here writing this, I’m thinking about how I went from not bothering with the lottery at all, to making the decision about a year ago to ‘give it a go’. I’d been involved with a few Community Interest Companies whose great work was continuing because of BIG Lottery funding. I’d been convinced that gambling on the lottery wasn’t such a bad thing after all. I set up a direct debit to play once a week at first and then, after only a few months, increased it to two games a week. Oh, and what about that other lottery? I also signed up to play that once a week – how did that happen? Oh well, both give to charity – a good enough incentive for me to take a little risk with my money. And, then there is that charity I’ve been donating regularly to for some years. I’d almost forgotten about that one. That gives me a chance of winning a lottery prize too. Apart from the very occasional email to tell me that I have won a few quid, I don’t think about it. After all, I’m not likely to win much very often – it’s just a fun way to give to charity… isn’t it?
Lotteries have become a socially accepted gambling activity fashioned as philanthropy – or is that how I justify it…? I’m sure that if I did a bit of research I’d be shocked to find out just how much actually goes to charity. Will I still continue to play? Well, probably; at least I will for the time being. You never know, I might be lucky!
The allure of winning is intoxicating. For some of us, however, it is so intoxicating that it can, and has, taken over our lives. The NHS estimates that there may be over 500,000 people in the UK with a gambling problem. Charities supporting those with a problem have seen an increase in people asking for help, with more young people and women than ever before. Over the last few years, there has been an increase in betting shops on the high street as well as the number of online gambling opportunities. Putting a bet on from the comfort of your sofa, or on the move with your mobile phone or tablet has never been easier or more accessible.
The attraction of winning is exciting. It is also addictive and dangerous. Losing, regardless of how great or regularly that might be, is no deterrent for someone with a gambling problem; the belief that ‘the next one is the big one’ is strong and magnetic. The justification for gambling becomes ever more elaborate and somewhat delusional. The reality is, gambling can destroy lives. It can lead to prison and, sadly, it can also lead to suicide.
It is thanks to celebrities such as Willie Thorne that, after sharing his story of how gambling took over his life and that of his family, we are now talking openly about the problem: a problem that can affect anyone. Willie recently declared himself bankrupt as a result of massive gambling debts. He lost his wealth, and he could so easily have lost his life to suicide had his wife not found him in time.
Gambling is associated with stress, low self-esteem, alcoholism, depression, and anxiety. The potential for it to impact in all aspects of life is great, and that includes work. Performance and productivity will certainly be compromised, and where there is opportunity, gambling can also lead a person to commit a crime against his or her employer. This was true for Paul Buck, founder of EPIC Problem Gambling Consultancy.
Paul is an inspirational guy with a mission to raise awareness of the problems of gambling, and to help businesses mitigate the risk of its effects within the workplace. He has shared his story publicly many times to highlight how gambling addiction can became dangerous – Paul lost his liberty, and he almost lost his life. Should business take gambling seriously? Given Paul’s experience, most definitely yes.
After convincing himself that it was okay, Paul stole a significant amount of money from his employer to continue funding his addiction. This went on for some time until finally, he couldn’t take it anymore. One day, he just got up and walked out of the meeting he was Chairing, made his way to the top of the building and tried to take his life. Luckily, the ligature he was using to hang himself gave way and he survived. At that point, Paul began to reassess his life. He decided to live, but knew he needed to change to stay alive. The next day, he provided his employers with the evidence of his crime, and handed himself in to the police. After serving a prison sentence, Paul channelled his passion and energy into his company, which is helping to make a difference.
What is striking about Paul’s story is his employer’s admission that, if he hadn’t approached them, they might never have uncovered the fraud. Whilst a problem with gambling may be difficult to recognise per se, it is possible to reduce its impact in the workplace by paying attention to the risk of damage to the business. And, the only sensible way to do this is by paying attention to the wellbeing of the workforce. In fact, I would argue that staff wellbeing is inextricably linked to the mitigation of risk in the workplace – any risk, not just that of gambling. One cannot be looked at in isolation of the other.
By investing in a culture that endorses wellbeing, a company is better able to identify and help an employee in difficulty. The resultant benefits of overall risk reduction and increased productivity far outweigh the reasons for not taking gambling seriously. It could also save someone’s life.
Thanks go to Paul Buck for allowing me to share his story.
You can find out more information about EPIC Problem Gambling Consultancy at http://www.epicpgc.com