Exclusion apps such as Gamban are taking on the 24/7, 365-days-a-year temptation of internet gambling
“I self-excluded from the major online casinos but there was always a new company I could open with and some of them don’t make it easy to self-exclude,” says Michael, a bricklayer from Glasgow, who started betting on football and greyhounds when he was 15, before developing a serious gambling addiction.
“I’d never even been to a casino but once I started playing roulette on FOBTs(fixed-odds betting terminals) in the bookies it became a serious addiction and the only way to satisfy it was to play more – mainly through online casino accounts,” he says. “I lost control, I was wasting the majority of my money every month.”
Hundreds of thousands across the UK are faced with similar gambling addictions, which have only been exacerbated by the explosion of betting apps, with the number of problem gamblers up more than 50% since 2012.
“Gambling is everywhere – on your phone, tablet, computer – 24/7, 365 days a year; constantly in your pocket or by your bed,” says Jack Symons, co-founder of gambling exclusion software Gamban. “People are finding it increasingly difficult to quit as it’s such a powerful and addictive source of stimulation and escapism. It’s like a drug … it’s difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it first-hand.”
Faced with this challenge Michael, like 10,000 of the UK’s 430,000 problem gamblers, turned to software to help kick the habbit. Gamban blocks more than 40,000 gambling sites and applications from users’ devices, and, by using a live database, it also removes the gambling element, skins betting, from e-sport games.
“It was the best thing I ever did, allowing me to cut out the online casinos from my life,” said Michael. “I felt I would go through the rest of my life slipping up every now and then until I installed Gamban on my laptop.”
Since Tony Blair’s liberalising reforms, the gambling industry has been able to not just meet, but to stimulate demand. Unlike many other developed countries, high stakes games are available anywhere on your smartphone in the UK. Through adverts, push notifications and bonus offers, these apps constantly remind you to have a flutter. When the opportunity to relapse is a mere click away, many people find it incredibly difficult to give up gambling.
While individual operators run their own self-exclusion schemes, they only apply to casinos they operate, and recovering addicts have even received targeted ads attempting to lure them back after they have started to abstain. Self-exclusion schemes at high street bookmakers have also been shown to be flawed, and thousands of people who had attempted to voluntarily ban themselves from gambling have still been able to access their accounts online.
“A responsible gambling company could put themselves in a situation where they ‘irritate’ the player with [responsible] initiatives that are designed to help them,” says Symons. “And so they may lose the player who is constantly bombarded with bonuses and incentives to join competing online casinos and who don’t have the same duty of care.”
As a consequence, Symons claims that gambling companies have been very receptive to Gamban and other forms of exclusion software, because it removes the competitive disadvantage that comes with acting responsibly.
The gambling industry is planning its own online multi-operator self-exclusion scheme, called Gamstop, for Spring 2018. But it will only apply to UK-licensed companies meaning many casinos will fall outside of its remit.
“An effective solution for a problem gambler may be using Gamstop and Gamban in conjunction, possibly alongside therapy or other treatment options,” says Symons.
Gamban isn’t the only gambling-blocking software available, but it is among the cheapest, costing £10 per year while others cost around £50 to £150 annually.
“One of the reasons we started gamban was because we felt it was wrong to charge people so much money at their lowest point,” says Symons, who founded Gamban in 2015 following his own troubles with gambling.
Gamban started out free for the first two years, and the current charge is a nominal fee reflecting the founders’ underlying desire to help problem gamblers while keeping the business sustainable – and they are offering it to students for free.
It’s no panacea, but the majority of reviews online are positive across Android, Mac OS and Windows, with some users attesting to the transformational effect it can have. The software needs constant fine-tuning, and for now it can simply be removed from an iPhone – something Gamban is working with Apple to try and fix this spring, which will be a first for gambling exclusion software.
Abstinence-based recovery from gambling addiction is closer than ever, and the software has already changed countless lives.
“I tried to block sites online but I had joined so many casinos that I lost count and half of those I had excluded from just let me back anyway. It was a vicious circle that I could not break,” says Karina, a 68 year-old who had gambled compulsively online for 11 years until installing Gamban. “It is my saviour and that of many others also. It has allowed me to carry on with my life.”
Some names have been changed