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Uncovering the hidden problem – gambling awareness in West Lothian

It’s a hidden problem – one that you have to know the signs to look for, and one that sufferers are very secretive about.

Alastair Ramsay of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau West Lothian is on a mission to raise awareness of problematic gambling, teach people how to spot it in their friends and loved ones, and signpost to the help that is available for anyone struggling with a gambling problem.

“It presents most commonly as a debt problem initially,” explains Alastair. “People tend to come to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau or other organisations for help when their debts get out of control as a result of gambling. Our advisers generally have to draw the information out of them about the root cause so that we can signpost to the right help.”

It’s an issue that affects all ages and walks of life, from young people who get drawn in via certain mechanisms within video gaming, all the way through to older people and more traditional forms of gambling. The impact on our communities is huge, and it’s a growing problem.

Gambling is any activity where you to risk losing money or belongings based on chance. There are many types, with varying degrees of social normality and acceptance.

It includes arcades, betting, bingo, casino, lotteries and gaming machines. More recently, emerging technologies have blurred the line between gambling and other forms of digital entertainment such as gaming, via mechanisms such as skin betting, loot boxes and smartphone premium games.

It is normalised around sport, and a lot of gambling is common and socially acceptable (for example, buying a lottery ticket). In the UK approximately half the population gambles in one way or another. You can gamble 24/7 on just about any platform.

However, some people are vulnerable to gambling harm. When it becomes an addiction, it leads to a host of personal and financial problems that are destructive in every sphere of life. Harms include anxiety and poor health, neglect of family, relationship breakdown, absenteeism or poor performance at work or study, financial hardship, debt and ultimately sometimes theft and crime. Tragically, it sometimes leads to suicide.

The Gambling Commission estimates that of the 2 million adults in the UK who experience some gambling harm, 340,000 are problem gamblers. Problem gambling is when the level of harm becomes disruptive and damaging to you or your family. And for each problem gambler an estimated 5 – 8 other people within their circle are affected.

How to tell if someone may be struggling with gambling

Potential signs include:

• declined credit

• agitated and upset for no apparent reason

• household valuables missing

• multiple cash withdrawals

• unexplained expenditure

• arrears with bills

• being secretive or defensive about money

• missing work, school or college

• being late, not answering calls

The lockdowns since the beginning of the pandemic have led to a significant increase in online gambling. There are many easy and accessible ways of gambling online, it’s been used as entertainment and online socialising for many people stuck at home. For a percentage of people though, it has become problematic and as lockdowns lift, the problems persist.

There is a lot of help available! A strategy by the Gambling Commission to reduce gambling harms is bringing health bodies, charities, regulators and businesses together in partnership. The first step is for people to recognise the problem and seek help for themselves or loved ones.


Would you like a gambling awareness presentation for your group? (virtual or in-person)

Alistair Ramsay is available to deliver gambling awareness training to any groups, charities or organisations in West Lothian who wish to raise awareness of the issues, help people spot problems and know where to find help. Anyone can know someone who potentially has a problem.

If you would would like a presentation, either in person or via Zoom, please contact Alistair at or call him on 07842 303203 to arrange.


Gambling help resources

• National Gambling Helpline provide 24/7 support on freephone 0808 8020 133 or visit the website for more advice and to speak to an adviser on live chat.

• GamCare and partners is a moderated online forum, live chat, daily online group chat rooms and one to one treatment - online, face to face or telephone.

• Gordon Moody residential treatment, recovery housing and retreat counselling programmes.

• Gamblers Anonymous Scotland a fellowship of men and women sharing their experiences.

• Gam Anon. This is a site specifically for partners of those with a gambling addiction. Helpline is 0370 050 8881.


Published in Konect June 2021

Author: Helen-Jane Shearer


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