Guest blog: Susan from the Scottish Women’s Convention on gambling stigma and discrimination for women

February 27, 2023

In this blog, Susan McKellar from the Scottish Women’s Convention shares a take on their roundtable event on women and gambling harm. The event invited women to share their personal experiences of gambling and its impacts, as well as discuss broader societal narratives around women and gambling.

There is still a lot of stigma around the issue of women and gambling, and this puts women off engaging with talking about their addiction or getting help for it.

A lot of women do not see what they are doing as gambling. Often the forms of gambling that women engage in, such as bingo, are seen as being social pastimes, so they may not think that addiction was relevant to them. Even advertising for women is gendered and different from ads for males.

A lot of gambling aimed at women, such as bingo sites, are focused on the social aspect, often depicting idyllic scenes of women sat together laughing. They are not reflective of the isolation that many women using these sites are experiencing.

Women stated that support services must be better advertised and not gendered. Television adverts promoting ‘BeGambleAware’ are not raising enough awareness about the issues people face especially women, they put the onus on the individual, and are not a successful preventative measure. One woman told us of the barriers she faced as a woman getting help to recover:

When she rang for information about Gamblers Anonymous, the man on the phone told her there were no other women in the group. She later gathered the confidence to challenge the group about this because that could have been enough to put her off attending. Consequently, she pushed to change the group’s practices so that if a woman rang, she would be the one to ring them back.

She spoke about how representation in the media, such as the Brookside storyline about Rosie Brooks’ gambling addiction, had helped women come forward about their own struggles with gambling. In this vein, she had shared her story with a magazine in the hope that it would show other women they are not alone.

For many women, trying to get more money for their family is precisely the reason they gamble.

Women made the point of telling us that a lot of the stigma faced by women is tied into gendered expectations. Society dictates that woman should be caring and responsible, however, for many women, trying to get more money for their family is precisely the reason they gamble.

When we spoke to women at one of our round table events they thought the term ‘gambling harm’ was off-putting for women as it sounded severe and for many of these women they did not see what they were doing as an addiction. The women we spoke with advised that they mainly use online games or gambling apps, and they did not acknowledge that there could be harmful effects of these habits.

The link between deprivation, generational trauma and gambling was also highlighted by women we spoke with.  For many, gambling was seen as a way of trying to escape poverty. It is important we investigate people’s motivations for gambling and that the root causes such as social inequality are addressed rather than blaming individuals. The correlation between women gambling and abusive relationships must be acknowledged, especially gambling as a means of gaining economic freedom to leave.    Women told us that more should be done to create and promote women-only support groups for recovery from gambling addiction. This would help reduce the impact of stigma and discrimination they sometimes face when attending meetings which are populated with mainly males.

Women told us that sharing their stories of gambling harm has had a big impact on encouraging other women to come forward, acknowledge their problems, and get help thus reducing the stigma and discrimination they face around the issue. So let’s start there, let’s encourage women to talk in safe spaces where they feel that they can start to deal with their addiction without shame and judgement.