While bingo clubs and other licensed venues have remained closed for much of the past year, online gambling activities have remained available throughout. We asked GamCare, who deliver the National Gambling Helpline service, what their experiences had been in 2020 and early 2021 of numbers accessing support services and tools, in addition to the issues raised by users.
The online and telephone services continued seamlessly through both lockdown periods, offering an opportunity to see, in real time, the effect of lockdown on the number of people accessing the service, the ways people chose to access support in managing their gambling behaviour, as well as seeking advice if concerned about a loved one.In common with other health and social care services we initially saw a reduction in people seeking help during the first weeks of lockdown, as well as a rise in callers asking for self-exclusion via GAMSTOP, however these trends have subsequently abated. The key concerns from service users included:
- Privacy concerns, which may have driven a switch from phone to text-based support as the main way of accessing services following the lockdown announcement.
- Engagement with group chatrooms increased. Anxieties about COVID were key themes of online conversations, alongside gambling-related issues.
- Staff on our helpline flagged increased concern around domestic abuse being experienced by callers. Engagement remained high among those already in treatment, however fewer people started treatment during the lockdown period.
To help address the concerns of our service users, we launched the #ReadytoTalk campaign in June 2020. Working with three other national charities (Samaritans, Refuge and Cruse Bereavement Care to raise awareness of help and support services and remind people that our helplines were still available.
Over the course of the campaign, we reached over 300,000 people via social media engagement, and a further 1 million people via media and stakeholder engagement. Campaign content was shared by MPs and several other prominent public figures, as well as through the Helplines, Partnership and other supporters. We perceive that the campaign has had an impact on phone calls to the Helpline over the last few months, although there may also be additional factors which need to be taken into account.