#IWD2023: Dispelling the myths around problem gambling among women
International Women’s Day in 2023 calls for everyone to ‘Embrace Equity’, but while we all engage in an attempt to create a world where gender-based disparity is eliminated, the addictive pull of problem gambling has unfortunately already shown that it affects women just as much as men.
Two women from within the EPIC family have taken the opportunity of the international awareness day to speak out about the experiences that lured them towards gambling, and the figures show that they’re not alone.
UK Gambling Commission statistics from 2021 hint that like most gender demographic statistics, gambling harm figures show only limited disparity between males and females. Their criteria for meeting gambling harm shows a figure of 0.2% of women compared to 0.3% of men, whilst the figures on female versus males gambling as a percentage of the surveyed population were found to be close: 40.5% versus 43.6%.
Despite this, there are still a number of cultural misconceptions surrounding female relationships with gambling, including the experience of Stacey Goodwin, women’s lead with our official foundation, EPIC Restart Foundation. She took a job in a UK bookmakers after leaving school, never believing that she would be drawn into gambling herself, but soon finding herself with a sense of stigmatisation after being tempted to give it a try.
“I never thought that it would happen to me – I would never put money into one of those machines,” she recalled.
“However, I went to another shop to get some change one day, I decided to put £1 into one of those machines, and I won. It was probably the worst thing that ever happened to me.
“You very rarely saw a women in there, never mind someone so young. It wasn’t something that you saw every day – an 18-year-old woman in a bookies, gambling. I was always aware that people would be watching me and thinking ‘what’s this girl doing?’.
“I felt a lot of embarrassment about being there, so I moved to online gambling and I loved it because I could choose my username – nobody knew that I was a woman – and I could do it without leaving my house.”
The ease and accessibility of gambling meant that Stacey could continue her journey away from public scrutiny, but it wasn’t to be the answer to the problem she was looking for. She continued:
“I spent every penny that came into my hands and I got into insane amount of debt. I was lying to my family and manipulating people, just to get enough money to gamble. The saddest thing was just how much of my thoughts were based around gambling. It was my entire life and nothing good came from it.
“I didn’t want to do it, but I didn’t know how to stop and I was so ashamed of myself. I couldn’t tell anyone that I was a woman with a gambling problem, you’d just never heard of it.
“I found a women’s only retreat with Gordon Moody, and that was very important to me. I remember being in this room with so many other women and for the first time since I was 18, I felt like I was me. It was so powerful to know that I wasn’t alone.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, EPIC Risk Management’s new programme facilitator, Liz Thielen, was more overt with her gambling, primarily doing so in the public space of a casino.
However, whilst this was initially something that she undertook as a family experience, and occasionally a social experience with friends, the heaviest and most disordered gambling would take place when she had chance to gamble alone, and she believes she was trying to re-fuel a competitive edge that was taken away when an injury curtailed her successful boxing career.
“I think that there’s a real connection to adrenaline,” she reflects.
“I was training [for boxing] six days a week usually, when at that time there weren't a lot of women training. A lot of the guys would be training full-time, but they could ease up for a while, and when they had a match coming up was when they'd turn on the training real full force.
“But with women's boxing, you didn't know if you were going to get a fight next weekend or if it would be four months from now, so you had to always be on. It meant I was training at this level that was very intense and I was accessing adrenaline regularly… and then it got cut off when my career ended.
“Honestly, the only place that I ever could feel that again was at the poker table. Even just driving to the casino, walking to the table, just trying to see ‘is there gonna be an open spot at the table’… I wanted to play it all. My heart was pounding. I would get that tunnel vision that I would get on the way to the ring.”
Both Liz and Stacey are prime examples that gambling – and its accompanying harms – are far from being an exclusively male pursuit, and to that end, Goodwin is proud to be fronting EPIC Restart Foundation’s latest initiative: ‘Women.Empowered’.
The new programme is a space where women can share openly, without fear of shame or judgement, their experiences of gambling harm whilst giving them the confidence to share their story in other environments in a way that empowers them, and keeps them safe.
Aiming to increasing self confidence and worth, decrease social isolation through meeting like-minded women and cover topics of conversation that may be attached to shame and stigma, among other benefits, Women.Empowered will take place via Zoom every Tuesday at 8pm GMT from 14th March onwards.
Participation is free and women can sign up now via www.epicrestartfoundation.org.