In a two-part series, Paul Dent – Gambling Therapy Manager at Gordon Moody Association (GMA) – takes an in-depth look at the concept of harm, analysing what constitutes harmful behaviours and how working alongside gambling operators can help on an academic, community and customer level.
Defining gambling-related harm
Back in April 2019, the UKGC launched its National Strategy which had the primary aim of reducing gambling-related harm. Highlighting the impact gambling can cause on individuals, families and communities, the strategy aimed to deliver a significant and sustained reduction in harm by having a wider perspective than just on responsible gambling.
The regulator pointed out that such an approach placed too much responsibility on the individual and not enough on businesses and those that oversee them to maximise protection and minimise harm.
But what actually is the definition of gambling-related harm? From an individual perspective, gambling-related harm has previously been defined as a behaviour that is ‘diverse, affecting resources, relationships and health, and may reflect an interplay between individual, family and community processes’ – with longer term effects and enduring consequences exacerbating existing inequalities.
Gambling-related harm has also been recognised from a public health perspective, with experts extending research and policy across the gambling continuum. It has been highlighted that studying the behaviours of gamblers does not capture the burden imposed on individuals, families and the community.
Regardless of their differences, both perspectives highlight how policies at a societal level can influence the experience of harm and how each level relates to each other.
GMA’s role in combating problem gambling
So which definition do we use? At GMA, we define problem gambling as a complex and multi-facets behavioural addiction characterised by ‘persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behaviour that disrupts personal, family, and/or vocational pursuits’.
We conceptualise gambling along a continuum, ranging from no gambling to occasional gambling to “at-risk” gambling, to problem gambling, acknowledging that some ways of gambling are clearly safer than others.
Additionally, we see gambling harms existing along a severity scale ranging from no harm through mild, substantial, to severe harm. Thus, through our interventions, we consider harms experienced at any level of gambling involvement.
Our experience at GMA is that anyone who gets caught up in the downward spiral of problem gambling finds only too soon that the negative impact on their life can be devastating. An all-consuming compulsion to gamble at any cost leads to difficulties which affect employment, quality of life, family relationships and mental and physical health. And of course, problem gambling does not just affect the individual.
It is estimated that for every problem gambler, at least six other family members (with a disproportionate impact on children of problem gamblers), friends and colleagues are also directly affected, ultimately leading to a significant negative impact on the wider society.
How can collaboration help mitigate this?
In taking a neutral stance, GMA is able to support gamblers and affect others to reduce the burden of harm. As an organisation we also work alongside operators with similar values to develop best practice. One operator we work alongside is Kindred, which is dedicated to minimising gambling related harm as much as possible.
Maris (Bonello) Catania currently occupies the role of Head of Responsible Gaming and Research at Kindred. Through our collaboration, we prioritise three major areas in our responsible gambling strategy: academic focus, community focus and customer focus.
Taking an academic approach, Kindred has worked alongside a number of renowned researchers such as Professor Mark Griffiths and Dr. Jonathan Parke, as well as sponsoring a number of PhD programmes focused on the topic with numerous universities such as University of Malta, Nottingham Trent University and Bournemouth University.
As part of the community focus, activities are aimed to help individuals on a social level. Initiatives include collaborations with organisations such as Gordon Moody where we helped in the development of the Gambling Therapy App in different languages, through initiatives with Gamban to offer such an essential tool for free to the ones who need it most.
The customer focus, as the name states, is focused on the Kindred customer. Through consultation with organisations such as GMA and knowledge from the various academic collaborations, Kindred applies this knowledge to be able to support customers from an early stage to minimise harm as early as possible.
Through this collaboration, Kindred understands that it is the way to go in order to ensure the best possible customer journey where protection is key. Kindred Group has, as part of our vision to make gambling 100% enjoyable, set an ambition to reach zero revenue derived from harmful gambling by 2023. It is a tough ambition, but we do believe that we need to set a goal and we invite the rest of the industry to join us.
As a part of this ambition Kindred will therefore be arranging, for the fifth year in a row, its Sustainability Gambling Conference (SGC) on the 21st of October. This year due to the circumstances we will host it online and the theme is “Collaborate to Innovate”. The focus will be on how the online gambling industry can take advantage of technological advancements to build a more sustainable industry.
In line with Kindred, GMA are very much driven by research and data. Our model of care embraces a trans-theoretical approach to change and is supported by the latest empirical evidence in relation to what works in assessing and addressing gambling related harm.
We are using recommended, leading approaches for treating gambling disorders such as Brief Intervention, Financial Education, Self-Help Tools, Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and a wide range of integrative therapeutic techniques.
Underpinning all of this is an approach that values compassion and offers understanding and support. Our purpose is to create safe, caring environments and programmes that empower our clients to make positive lasting changes and live fulfilled lives.
Brief Intervention, as used within GMA, is the most widely validated preventive approach for addiction, including problem gambling and other negative health behaviours. To further improve our service, we are drawing upon the latest evidence related to the effectiveness of brief intervention – which is guiding the way we support individuals.
Moreover, education is key – both in terms of educating the individual and affected family members, friends and colleagues. At GMA, we continually aim to deliver education and prevention strategies to help increase awareness about the risks associated with gambling.
This, coupled with providing gamblers with personalised feedback on their own use and the potential risks involved, has a significant positive impact on their short- and long-term gambling behaviour.