One of the newest kids on the block, and the name on everybody’s lips in the world of responsible gambling is GamTalk, the foundation dedicated to delivering personal and informative presentations to young people on the possible dangers of problem gambling.
Paul Pettigrew, the 24 year old founder of GamTalk set up the organisation in the wake of his own gambling addiction, in an effort to prevent young people following the same path he did.
For Safer Gambling Week we looked to speak with experts in their field and were lucky enough to speak to Paul about setting up GamTalk and his efforts in preventing gambling addiction through education.
Read the full interview below.
OB: What made you set up GamTalk when there are other problem gambling services available?
Paul: I started GamTalk because while there are services such as Gamblers Anonymous and GamCare that help people whose addictions have already started, GamTalk is trying to go in with the prevention method. So I am talking to young people at schools and sports clubs, talking to them about problem gambling before it actually starts so they’ve got all the information they need, they know how to identify a problem and get a problem fixed early on.
The idea to set up GamTalk came from my own experience, I didn’t know about gambling problems, I never learnt about it at school, and there isn’t a whole wealth of information out there. I wanted to fix that so that's how GamTalk came about.
OB: What do you think GamTalk does differently to the other tools available?
Paul: I believe that prevention is a better method than cure. GamCare and Gamblers Anonymous are great services and greatly needed but if you start from the beginning and educate people when they’re young, then in ten years you’re going to have a generation that is aware of the dangers of problem gambling and will be able to pass that knowledge on. When you educate people you can stop the problem before it even begins.
OB: GamTalk was only set up this year. What do your workshops entail and what progression plans do you have?
Paul: My workshops target teenagers, primary school students would be too young and it’s hard to get kids that young to engage. Ideally the groups I speak to would be 15-18 year olds, they’re at the right age, just on the cusp of being able to gamble legally.
In my workshops there’s a mix of my story and statistics. The kids can relate to my story, they can see someone not unlike themselves in me and see how I got into the situation I did. When I tell my story I can see their eyes widening as the realisation of how easy it is to fall into, when you don’t know what to watch out for.
The aim for GamTalk is to get into as many schools, sports clubs and youth groups as I possibly can all over the UK. The more schools and youth groups the more people I can talk to, the more people I can help and that’s really the goal.
OB: Tell us a bit about the fundraiser you completed where you slept in the streets to raise awareness. How did that go?
Paul: It was an eye opening experience and I learned a lot about myself. It was cold but the thing I probably underestimated the most was sleep deprivation. By Wednesday I was absolutely shattered, because there were areas where you might not get bothered by the police and you're allowed to sleep but it's really dangerous, so I went up to where my university was to be able to sleep, but then you’re near student halls so the police move you.
When I spoke to the people I met on the streets I realised their stories weren’t all that different to mine and I could have ended up in the same situation as them if I hadn’t had the support system I do. I have a lot of great friends and an amazing family that I needed to help me out of my problem. A lot of people just don’t have that support.
OB: Did it bring a lot of awareness to GamTalk?
Paul: Definitely it did. Within the week I gained about 1,500 followers on Instagram and 1,000 on facebook. I posted a different part of my story each night and I had a lot of people get in touch with me telling me how my journey resonated with them, whether or not they had a gambling problem.
That’s the whole point of GamTalk, to be authentic and relatable. I know not everyone will relate but if you’re standing in front of a group of young people, being someone they can connect with does more than standing in front of them in a suit and tie.
OB: Was university a key factor in your gambling problem worsening?
Paul: I don’t think it's the university that is to blame for my gambling problem, but it was at that time. But I admit it is for other people. University is definitely a time when people start gambling, you see groups of boys mainly who may skip class and go to the bookies together and it’s seen as a social thing.
When you’re trying to live off of student finance, the idea of putting £10 on a bet and coming out with a couple hundred pounds to get you through the month is enticing. Although you’re technically an adult you’re still very young and have a lot of learning to do. You’re at that age where you can finally gamble legally and you have the freedom to go to the bookies and casinos.
OB: What do you think universities could do differently to support their students?
Paul: I think that universities could take the same approach as I am, education. They already have workshops and talks on alcohol and drugs, but gambling can be just as destructive and there aren’t talks on it currently.
Universities are pretty good when it comes to offering counselling and support to their students but there isn’t the same awareness when it comes to gambling problems as there is for alcohol and drugs. For further help it’s still best to go to the doctors or gambling specific services that are available, but talks at university would highlight these services to their students.
OB: Do you think there is a football culture at university that lends itself to gambling?
Paul: You can’t escape gambling. There are adverts every time you go onto Youtube and on the TV and the majority of boys at university will participate in football culture, then they’re bombarded with adverts to bet on their team. For most people gambling can be fun but it might be the case that for every 10 boys that place a bet at the bookies, 9 will be fine but 1 will have a problem and need to know where to get help.
OB: In your opinion are online gambling operators doing enough to protect their players?
Paul: It’s tough because you can see they are trying at least, and there are measures in place. But with the number of sites available individual gambling operators can only do so much. If you gamble at multiple sites and divide up your deposits, the gambling operators won’t know your total spend and know whether you can truly afford it. So, who does the responsibility lie with?
I keep harking back to education because ultimately the responsibility falls onto the individual. Everyone is aware of the dangers of alcohol and drugs so when you decide to use those substances you are at least aware of the consequences, but with gambling people don’t necessarily know what they’re getting themselves into.
OB: What is your opinion on loot boxes. Are they introducing children to gambling?
Paul: When I was younger I had friends that would spend money on these packs in FIFA, when they could have been spending their money more wisely. It created the same thrill as gambling does, purchasing a product and hoping to get the high value item inside.
When they wouldn’t get the player they wanted in FIFA for example, they would go back and buy more. So they definitely need to be regulated as gambling, especially because they’re so readily available to children.
OB: Should the National Lottery be an 18+ product?
Paul: Both the National Lottery and scratch cards should be 18+. A lot of people see these things as harmless but they’re not and they can be really addictive. In my friendship group, roughly 19 of us, there are at least 5 that have had a gambling problem, and it started with scratch cards for quite a few of them.
OB: How have lockdown restrictions impacted your strategy for GamTalk?
Paul: There was one day that I got down wondering what I was going to do. But I realised I can use this time to build awareness and get the message out there while I can’t do talks face-to-face. The bigger the audience the better, the more people I can help.
I’ve also been doing online presentations, I did one for Street League and Action for Children. It may not be ideal and it is definitely easier to be engaging when you’re delivering the presentation in person but it is still possible. If I can talk to the children and help even one of them, it’s worth it.
OB: Do you credit overcoming your problem to your family?
Paul: I had a great support network that really helped me overcome my issues. This was my family and friends, but I know a lot of people don’t have that same support. GamTalk, alongside providing talks and educating young people, was started so I could connect with people and give people who don’t have that same support a network they can go to.
Since starting ten weeks ago I’ve had close to 100 messages, I meet some boys regularly, and am available to speak to anyone who needs it, just to take the pressure off as a lot of people haven’t spoken to anyone about their problems.
I don’t claim to solve anyone’s problems but there’s a great deal of pressure when you keep a secret like that in, and speaking to someone can help alleviate that pressure. If I can be that first step for someone who already has a problem and help them start their journey to recovery that’s wonderful.
A big thanks to Paul Pettigrew for speaking with us and giving us more insight into GamTalk. We are truly inspired by his commitment to educating young people on the dangers of gambling and in his efforts to fundraise and provide moral support to those struggling with problem gambling.
For more information on GamTalk check out the GamTalk website or follow Paul on Instagram at @gamtalk_uk.
Hannah has written news articles and lifestyle blogs for three years. Venturing into the gambling industry Hannah is writing gambling content for Online Bingo and has written content for Lodgis Paris.
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