Women and gambling: Making the invisible visible
Today is International Women's Day (IWD), a day to celebrate women and the important but often unacknowledged and unseen roles women play in society.
Posted 8 March 2023 by Communications
This year’s theme is ‘Embrace Equity'. This is hugely relevant to the world of gambling and gambling harms to ensure we understand how women’s experiences of gambling are different.
In this post, we hear from women who are members of our Lived Experience Advisory Panel (LEAP) and the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling (ABSG) on the current research behind women and gambling and the findings from their focus groups.
A report on women and gambling was published last week, entitled ‘Holding it all together and picking up the pieces’ (opens in new tab). This describes women's experiences of gambling and crime, revealing some harrowing stories. It covers not only abuse, but widespread lack of awareness and lack of support and help for women. It just isn't there or tailored to women, whether it be from social services, healthcare, banks, family courts, or the justice system.
Women deal with daily challenges such as the fallout of their partners or children’s behaviour alongside debt. Often this can lead to relationship breakdown, domestic abuse, poverty, homelessness, and despair. Or, increasingly, they are coping alone with their own addiction, afraid of being judged, or afraid of telling anyone close to them about the impact of gambling on their lives.
Raising Awareness within the Commission
The Commission’s 2022 figures show that more women are gambling now than ever before. We also found more women are at risk of harm from gambling addiction. This could be through a family member or directly impacting the women themselves.
In August 2022, members of LEAP suggested that the Commission begin its own work to raise awareness about women and gambling harms, and focus groups were formed to explore this. These considered the impacts on women inside and outside the Commission.
Over the last few months, we've brought together 14 women from diverse backgrounds to talk about their experiences. Time was also spent considering what more could be done by the Commission and it's partners to raise awareness of the challenges and barriers facing women.
Focus Group Findings: Insights and Stigma
The insight we have gained from these sessions has been invaluable. They highlighted many issues faced by women at risk of, or experiencing gambling harm. For example, women who had begun gambling at different stages in their lives during which changes in health, professional or family circumstances had led to a heightened vulnerability.
The stigma associated with gambling addiction can often be a barrier to women accessing support. Gambling is seen as an “acceptable” activity for men but not for women. Consequently, women are less likely to engage with formal support services, tailored to men.
Key conclusions from these focus groups indicated:
- a desire for much wider availability of support for women by women
- the need for tighter controls on some of the industry practices that are directed at women. One frequently cited example is the marketing that is targeting women. This includes pink ads and incentives like spa days as well as focus group attendees saying that they were receiving a deluge of direct marketing while self-excluded
- a desire for operators throughout Great Britain to provide a much higher level of care, protection, and respect for women, especially in the predominantly male environments of casinos and betting shops. This extends to online help also. This included a desire for staff on helplines being more empathetic and aware of how much a woman may be carrying when she asks for help.
The experience of women
The social and cultural pressures on women are many and varied and they differ from those men experience. We therefore need to generate more specialised understanding and management of womens’ experiences of gambling-related harms. Whether these are direct or indirect.
Women are so often the ones who are protecting others in the family. They carry the burden of debt, despair, hopelessness. They cover up for loved ones. Take on extra work to try and clear family debts. Gamble alone. When they seek help and support for themselves, they are not taken seriously. These are clear and present dangers for women. Instead of holding it together and picking up the pieces, we want to be the change and see the change that’s so urgently needed.
LEAP are committed to raising awareness of women’s experiences of gambling and gambling harms and are working closely with the Commission to ensure that these voices and experiences are heard.
About the authors
Women members of LEAP and ABSG.
Support available for women affected by gambling or gambling harms: