Compulsive Online Gambling Affects Growing Number of Women

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A growing number of women are turning to a pastime that used to be the domain of men: compulsive online gambling. According to a recent report in The Observer, online gambling is becoming “hugely popular” among women who otherwise would never venture alone into a casino or betting shop. But from the privacy of their own homes, they can pursue their addiction.

According to the Gambling Commission of the UK, female online gamblers are typically 25 to 34 years of age. The Internet boasts an estimated 2,000 gambling websites, and many take advantage of the fact that women feel safer gambling online than they do in a casino or other facility. A website called Cashcade, for example, which runs getmintedbingo.com, reports that 80 percent of its audience is female.

The Gambling Commission of the UK estimates that up to 378,000 people have a gambling problem in Britain, while Gamblers Anonymous believes the number is closer to 600,000. Results of a January 2009 survey conducted by the Gambling Commission found that 9.7 percent of adults questioned said they had participated in online gambling in 2008, compared with 7.2 percent in 2006. The people most likely to participate were males between 18 and 44 years of age, and most gamblers used a personal computer rather than a cell phone or interactive TV. When the Commission conducted an update to their survey through June 2009, it found that the number of people who said they had participated in online gambling had risen to 10.2 percent.

The rising popularity of online gambling among women in the UK caught the attention of Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a consultant psychiatrist at the National Problem Gambling Clinic in London, who has started a babysitting service in an attempt to encourage women to get help for their addiction. “We hoped offering this service might bring more women out of the isolation, the shame and the guilt that they might be enduring alone, hidden away at home.”

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Bowden-Jones notes that some women gamble online for up to 10 hours a day. “There are sites that are targeting women,” she says. Many gambling websites feature pink color schemes, gambling horoscopes, and male pin-ups. “Men usually gamble because they have large egos and are seeking power from winning in competitive games such as cards,” she says, “whereas the women have low self-esteem and feel a sense of empowerment when they gamble.”

Natasha Dow Schull, a cultural anthropologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has written a book on compulsive gambling that will be published in 2010. She is quoted in The Observer saying that compulsive gambling is “different for men and women—men gamble for a cocaine-like rush, women for a methadone-like numbness.” Her research uncovered stories about women who had neglected their children while they gambled, including cases of infants who had died in hot cars while their mothers gambled inside a casino.

During the cable television show A&E, which aired a show about women compulsive gamblers on February 23, 2009, it was noted that compulsive gambling among women is a growing problem: while ten years ago only 3 percent of compulsive gamblers were women, that number is 46 percent or higher today. In the United States, about 2 million (1%) of adults meet the criteria for compulsive or pathological gambling in a given year, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). Another 4 to 6 million (2 to 3%) can be considered problem gamblers, defined as someone who meets one or more of the criteria and are experiencing problems because of their gambling behavior.

The NCPG notes that pathological gambling includes the following factors:

  • Gambling longer than you had planned
  • Often gambling until you spend your last dollar
  • Thoughts of gambling cause you to lose sleep
  • You use your income or savings to gamble while neglecting your bills
  • You have made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling
  • You have broken laws or considered breaking laws to finance your gambling
  • You have borrowed money to gamble
  • You have felt depressed or suicidal because of your gambling losses
  • You have felt remorse about gambling
  • You have gambled to get money to meet financial obligations

Compulsive gambling, both online and off, is a growing problem for women, and it is not a problem that is isolated to the United Kingdom. Individuals who want help for their compulsive gambling in the UK can contact the Gambling Commission for a list of resources; in the United States, the National Council on Problem Gambling; and Gamblers Anonymous, which is international.

SOURCES:
Gamblers Anonymous
Gambling Commission
National Council on Problem Gambling
The Observer, Jan. 17, 2010

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