Gambling addiction in the UK is a big enough problem that the government is pledging to direct more time and money to tackling it after the upcoming general election. Crystal Palace and England footballer Andros Townsend recently opened up about his problems with gambling, which is a good chance to re-evaluate how we look at gambling addiction.
Andros Townsend has been playing professional football since 2009 and 10 years into his career he is earning a reported £80,000 a week. In a recent article on The Players' Tribune, Townsend claims to have gambled away £46,000 in one session back in 2012, whilst gambling on his phone in a hotel room.
Most people in the UK can only dream of earning that kind of money in a whole year, so why would someone in Townsend’s position gamble with it? Well, this is not a story not a story of greed, it’s a chance to understand that gambling addiction can affect anyone.
It can be easy to falsely assume that gambling addiction only affects people who don’t have much money, or people who spend all their time in casinos. You might think that gambling addicts are just people struggling and desperately wishing for a big win that will change their life, at which point they will stop. You might also think that people with gambling addictions just have no self control and have many vices, meaning there's no hope for them.
Townsend doesn’t smoke, drink or take drugs, but when he found an attractive gambling offer whilst having a quiet night in he was quickly introduced to a problem just as damaging. A quick bet turned into multiple, then whilst chasing losses Townsend just kept spending and before he knew it he was hooked.
Months of problem gambling lead Townsend to his £46,000 mistake, which occurred whilst sitting in his hotel room one night. Even though this was rock bottom for him, and he knew it, he kept gambling until he was caught and fined by the Football Association (FA) in 2013.
Townsend was by no means struggling. He was just beginning his dream career and earning more money than most people will ever see in their lives every year. He was also battling a crippling addiction to gambling that wasn't fuelled by a need for more money. Not everyone is lucky enough to earn as much as Townsend and come away relatively unscathed (apart from nearly losing his career).
The big takeaway from Townsend’s story is that gambling addiction can affect anyone, no matter your career or how much money you make, and it is always damaging. It can be easy to convince yourself ‘it could never happen to me’, but that's just not true.
Ask yourself this: why do you believe it when The National Lottery suggests, "it could be you" despite the overwhelmingly low odds of winning, but you don't think that you could be one of the 462,000 problem gamblers in the UK?
No matter your position in life, evaluating your gambling habits and ensuring you’re gambling responsibly is important. Gambling can be fun, but it can also ruin a persons life before they realise it.
BeGambleAware has a gambling addiction quiz on its website, which is a great place to start. You can check out the responsible gambling guides on our site, which is a great resource for learning how to set limits, reducing potential harm and knowing when to take a break from gambling.