Home » responsible gambling
Peter Addison

While for most people gambling is harmless, for some, it can become both an addiction and a destructive force. Because of the nature of addiction, it can be hard to admit to having a problem, and then face that problem even if you’ve acknowledged its existence. If you have a suspicion that you might have a gambling problem, then please allow us to help. This page will help you to identify whether you have a gambling problem, what you need to do, how you can help yourself, and how you can get the help you need.

Gambling – Why?

For most regular gamblers, gambling is a small part of life that is done for two reasons. The first is to be entertained. The second is to win money. It would be nice if the second reason came true every time we gambled, but sadly it doesn’t. That first reason though – it’s important that gambling (when done) remains entertaining. Once it stops being entertaining, then there is no reason to do it… which is an issue some gamblers have a problem with.

Gambling is perhaps the ultimate example of the ‘risk and reward’ system within the human brain. Why do we take risks? Well, when the brain establishes that something is a risk it performs many complex actions, many of which we’ve yet to understand. However, most of these actions are emotional, and – depending on the type of person you are – lead to enjoyable emotions. This is why some people enjoy scary movies or throw themselves out of aeroplanes at high altitudes, or drive way too fast to be called safe.

gambling dice

All these actions come with a reward – the conclusion of the movie, the safe landing or the end of the journey without being stopped by the authorities. The brain is very good at giving us rewards – an area of the brain called the ventral tegmental area releases a chemical called dopamine. This chemical binds to neurons which causes us to feel pleasure. This helps establish a strong link – the risk taken resulted in a reward. This therefore encourages us to take the risk again.

You may find this puzzling – why does our own brain encourage us to take risks? In truth, it doesn’t. The risk-reward system evolved within us long ago – when we were likely to encounter risky situations as part of our daily lives. If we survived a risky situation, then our brains would reward us, to encourage us to take the same actions to survive the situation should it happen again. It’s doubtful that our brain would evolve in such a way to know that one day, we’d be taking self-induced risks.

Risk Without Reward = No Fun

Imagine that you’re a child waking up on Christmas morning. You run down the stairs, only to discover that you’re on the naughty list this year and Santa has not visited you. This is how the brain reacts when there’s a risk, but there’s no reward. You’ve had the emotions of taking the risk, part of which is the expectation of the eventual reward. If there’s no reward, and therefore no dopamine release, then you end up feeling like a present-deprived child. This is not a pleasant experience.

So, what do we do when we encounter an unpleasant experience? Again, that depends upon the type of person. Some of us just brush it off and forget it. Some of us choose an alternative that’s guaranteed to create a pleasant experience – such as eating a tub of ice cream. A few of us take the route of experiencing the same risk in the hope that this time, we’ll get the reward.

This is where the problems, for some, can start. While a few will take the same risk, many will choose a bigger risk as the lack of reward from the previous occasion has left them lacking. Repeated ‘risk with no reward’ experiences will see the levels of risk accelerate.

The same is true in terms of the increase in levels of risk, even if there are rewards. The thrill of that first reward can never be repeated by undertaking the same level of risk. The reward from a £10 win six months ago will not feel the same as the reward from a £10 win today, for example. This leads to bigger risks (in terms of financial outlay when it comes to betting) to feel gratified.

Conscious vs Subconscious

Learning can be defined by the passing off of tasks from the conscious mind to the subconscious mind. Think back to when you were a child again when you were learning the alphabet. Memorising 26 squiggles is no mean feat, and yet you no longer even have to decipher them. Your brain is so good at translating collections of squiggles into sounds and assigning them meaning that you do it without thinking about it. This is because the process of deciphering letters, converting collections of them into words and understanding their meaning has been passed to your subconscious mind.

man thinking

Our brain likes to pass as much of its processing to the subconscious mind as possible, leaving it free to process information that is pertinent to the here and now. This system leads to the formation of habits – repeated behaviours that are repeated so often they don’t even have to be thought about. If you choose to start every morning off running a mile, then by the end of two weeks as soon as your morning alarm goes off you’ll be out of bed and putting on your running shorts before you even realise it. There are bad habits too, of course, such as being unable to watch a football match without drinking beer or being unable to enjoy having a cup of coffee without a cigarette.

Gambling too can become a habit. For many, it remains a harmless one as they just risk the odd tenner every week. The danger comes when the reason for the habit falls past the subconscious. Gambling is likely to have become a habit because it was something you enjoyed doing – adding a little excitement to your participation in sports spectating. There’s no harm in that, but one of the ways gambling becomes a problem for some is when gambling is done ‘for the sake of gambling’ i.e. when the winning or losing of money becomes meaningless. It’s the same reason people keep drinking even when they no longer get any joy from it, or continually online shop even though they seldom open what they purchase.

The Four Phases of Gambling Addiction

The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery has defined the four phases of gambling addiction as follows:

The Winning Phase

Most gambling addicts start with a win. If people repeatedly lose when they start gambling, they soon abandon it. It doesn’t even have to be a big win – it’s the sensation of risking something and gaining the important reward. Winning is a signal, making people believe they have a talent for gambling, or they are lucky. They will continue to gamble with the expectation that the winning will continue.

The Losing Phase

Very few people make a living out of gambling or experience the extreme good fortune of a life-changing win. This though, does not stop problematic gamblers from gambling. They believe that they can make a living out of gambling, or that the one big win is just a matter of time, therefore they continue to gamble, accepting losses as simply obstacles on their way to success. Eventually, money becomes a problem, especially if they are continually losing. This will see them using money that’s needed elsewhere (mortgage payments, utility bills) or borrowing money. They may also start to keep their gambling secret, lying to their family and friends and taking time off work. Inevitably the losses will begin to mount, leading problem gamblers to try and claw back what they’ve lost in the only way they know – by gambling.

The Desperation Phase

Eventually, the losses become so bad there is little hope of ever returning to the point, financially, at which gambling was first undertaken. Despite this, problematic gamblers continue to gamble, because they have nothing left to lose and it has become all they know. By the time they reach this phase, problem gamblers feel ashamed about their gambling and guilty after doing it, but they no longer have the control to stop doing it. Their problems mount, finding illicit ways to gain the money they need. The rest of their lives are severely compromised – losing friends and even loved ones and family. They could end up divorced, unemployed, homeless or even incarcerated or in trouble with the kinds of people no one wants to end up in trouble with.

The Hopeless Phase

At this point, the problem gambler no longer sees any hope for their situation. They think that no one will help them, or they find the idea of seeking help impossible. They’ve lost their home, their job, their family… everything. They may have turned to alternative means to numb the pain they are feeling, such as excessive use of alcohol or narcotics. Some may even contemplate the ultimate step and the only solution they can think of – the self-induced ending of their lives.

Problematic Gambling Recovery

If the above paints a bleak picture, then it’s only because it’s based on the experiences of problem gamblers throughout the world. If you feel you are at any stage of the four phases noted above, then there is one important thing you need to understand – no matter where you are and how bleak your situation seems to be, recovery is possible. There are people to speak to, people willing to help you, and people who will support you no matter where you currently find yourself.

It is important to note that you do not have to reach ‘rock bottom’ to seek help for any gambling problems you currently have. It is simply important that you recognise that you have a problem, and seek the help you need.

Responsible Gambling – Some Facts and Figures

Never think you are the only person who gambles, or who has a problem with gambling. The majority of people indeed gamble without any issues, but if you do have an issue it’s nothing to be ashamed of. The following statistics, collected from the UKGC, will undoubtedly confirm this.

  • The gross gambling yield in the UK averages around £15 billion per annum.
  • Just under half of the UK’s population (18 or over) gamble at least once per month (over 23 million people).
  • Over a quarter of the UK’s population (18 or over) gamble online (~13.5 million people).
  • Of those who gamble, around 0.3 per cent are identified as high-risk problem gamblers (~70,000 people).
  • Of those who gamble, around 1.2 per cent are identified as medium-risk problem gamblers (~276,000 people).
  • Of those who gamble, around 1.8 per cent are identified as low-risk problem gamblers (~414,000 people).

This means that out of the UK’s population of 68 million people, around 760,000 have been identified as having some kind of problem with gambling. If you are currently experiencing gambling problems, then there is no need to think that you are the only one.

Are You a Problem Gambler?

It can be hard to identify that you have a problem gambling. People with alcohol dependency issues seldom think there is anything wrong with their drinking. People who have gained an unhealthy amount of weight find it hard to find a reason to alter their diets. Destructive habits can be impossible to admit to, as typically they are associated with pleasurable experiences.

One thing you can do is to stop gambling for a limited period, say, a week. Tell yourself that you will not gamble for seven days but at the end of that time, you are free to gamble again. If you are unable to refrain from gambling for seven days, then it’s likely that you have a problem. If you do complete seven days of gambling abstinence, then take a moment to reflect and consider how to approach your gambling going forward.

There are other questions you can ask yourself if you feel that gambling is becoming a problem for you.

  • Do you think about gambling a lot – more than you are comfortable with?
  • When you lose, do you think you can regain your losses by gambling?
  • Have you had arguments about your gambling with your family or friends?
  • Have you turned down a social invitation so that you could gamble instead?
  • Has your performance taken a downturn at work, or in any area in which you usually excel?
  • Have you been tempted to steal or ‘borrow’ money to fund your gambling?
  • If you want to be entertained, is your first thought to gamble?
  • Do you lie (even to yourself) about the time that you spend gambling?

If you answer yes to a minimum of three of these questions then it is very likely that you have, or are at least developing a problematic approach to gambling.

Steps You Can Take to Foster Responsible Gambling

The key aspect of gambling is to remain in control. You control your gambling, not the other way around. If you find that your gambling is controlling you, then you have an issue. Fortunately, there are several tools you can use to control your gambling. Most of these though rely upon self-regulation.

Bankroll Management

You must be always fully aware of how much money you are spending when you are gambling. Keep a record of every bet you make or every gambling session. Note down how much money you have won or lost via betting, or playing slots or casino games. Review the figures daily, weekly, and monthly. Once you see the actual figures in black and white, it may surprise you just how much money you are spending.

But what is the correct amount of money if you do wish to gamble, and in a responsible manner? The only answer is to work out a budget involving all your expenses and match it against your income to see how much disposable income you have. Then, work out the proportion of that income you are happy to lose when you gamble.

english bank notes

One tactic many use is to divide their monthly bankroll by ten to get their daily bankroll, and then divide their daily bankroll by ten again to work out their maximum bet size. The rule that must then be followed is that once the daily bankroll is used up, no more bets that day, and once the monthly bankroll is used up, no more bets that month.

You can set deposit limits at sports betting sites that can help you limit the money you spend on gambling. However, this again requires self-control and once you exhaust the deposit limit at one site, you can simply move on to the next one. It is far better to take ownership of your spending yourself.

Sanity or Reality Checks

Many online gambling sites will allow you to set timed reminders. These are in the form of pop-up windows that appear once you have been on a site for a specified period. While these can be useful, the fact that they can simply be dismissed reduces their effectiveness. If though, you are in the habit of losing yourself and a sense of time when gambling, they can serve as a decent tool.

Time Out and Self-Exclusion

If you seriously want to give yourself a break from gambling but are not confident that you will be able to do so, then you can request at a sports betting site that your account be suspended for a while or closed completely. The period is dependent on the site and yourself. Once your time-out period is up, you can decide whether you wish to start gambling again or extend your break.

We will talk about GAMSTOP, the UK’s online gambling exclusion scheme, later on.

Responsible Gambling – What Sports Betting Sites Do

Responsible gambling is not only down to you – it is down to the sports betting sites that you use as well. It is a legal requirement that sports betting sites with UKGC licences monitor the accounts of their customers to identify problem gamblers. If a UKGC-licensed site fails to do this (as has happened a few times in the past), then they could find themselves fined or sanctioned.

Should you find yourself identified as a problem gambler by a site, then you can expect to be contacted and restrictions to your account applied such as a deposit freeze, or deposit limitations. Your account may even be closed. (Note that this type of situation is not to be confused with your betting account being gubbed.)

Naturally, this is again a tactic that requires your cooperation, as losing access to an account at one site may simply see you opening an account at a different online bookmaker. However, sites do share information about problematic gamblers, so you may find that having an account closed at one site will thwart your chances of opening an account at another.

GAMSTOP – The National Online Gambling Exclusion Scheme

You may have heard of GAMSTOP and wondered what it is all about. GAMSTOP is a free service that allows you to voluntarily self-exclude from ALL gambling websites in the UK that have a UKGC licence. You simply apply to GAMSTOP and give as much information about yourself as possible – your name, email addresses, home addresses, telephone numbers and so on. GAMSTOP will then add this information to a database of excluded members.



All UKGC-licensed sites are required by law to access this database at least once per day and match it against their own database of registered users. If they find a match, then they must restrict that user’s account preventing them from placing bets or making deposits. The account will not be closed though, so if the user has funds in their account, then they can still be withdrawn.

If you apply to GAMSTOP, then you can stipulate the period of your self-exclusion. This can be for six months, one year or five years. GAMSTOP is not able to restrict your access to UKGC-licensed gambling sites indefinitely. However, you can choose to restrict your access indefinitely if you so wish. Once your GAMSTOP self-exclusion period is over, it is up to you to request that your ban be lifted as GAMSTOP will not automatically lift it. If you wish to extend your self-exclusion period, then all you need to do is not ask for it to be removed.

GAMSTOP – The Limitations

GAMSTOP is a failsafe service. If you try and open an account at a UKGC-licensed site using any of the information you have presented to them then you will not be able to do so. However, there is a limitation – GAMSTOP will only apply to UKGC-registered sites. There are betting sites that do not have a UKGC licence that accept customers in the UK. So in theory, you should have no issues in opening an account at one and recommencing your gambling career. Again, complete self-regulation when it comes to gambling is down to the individual.

Avoid Sites Without UKGC Licences

Whether you are self-excluding or not, if you are based in the UK, then we thoroughly recommend that you steer well clear of any gambling site that accepts UK customers without having a UKGC licence. Any site that does so is operating illegally.

You may feel you are willing to take the risk, but it is not a risk worth taking. Such sites are ‘famed’ for not paying our winnings, for taking deposits and then cancelling the account of the party making the deposit, or offering bonuses and promotions that are nothing more than scams. If you fall foul of such sites do not expect anyone to offer help, as it is help that you won’t get.

Just to re-iterate – If you are in the UK then stay well clear of sites without the necessary UK licensing.

Responsible Gambling Help – Other Resources

Aside from the site themselves and GAMSTOP, there are plenty of other organisations that can help you if you feel you have a gambling problem or are unhappy about your gambling in any way.

The Final Word

The key thing to remember when it comes to gambling is that gambling should always be entertaining. Only a tiny percentage of people make a continual income from gambling and those that do so treat gambling as their full-time job. Unless you are a full-time and successful gambler, then you should never treat gambling as a means of a reliable stream of income.

Once you have accepted this, you should understand that gambling should only be done for entertainment purposes. If you find yourself gambling but are not finding it entertaining, then you need to stop. If you cannot stop, or reduce your gambling to a level at which it becomes entertaining again, then you may be exhibiting signs of problem gambling.

This page has shown you what you need to do should you feel you are a problem gambler, and the resources that are available to you.


Peter Addison
Peter Addison

Peter is one of the most well-known and well-respected names working in the field of online sports betting today. Having a Bachelor of Arts degree, Peter has worked for many high-profile publications in the industry, both online and in the real world. He joined the SafestBettingSites team in 2021 and has provided millions of words ever since. When not writing, Peter enjoys performing and writing music, gaming, reading and he is a massive movie buff, with a particular love of Japanese cinema and anime.