Research, as well as discussions with treatment and support providers and women who gamble, show that women’s experiences of gambling are different to men’s, in terms of the types of gambling they take part in and their motivations for doing so. However, women’s experiences are a comparatively neglected area of gambling research. While research in this area has been increasing over the last decade, we still have a limited understanding about the gambling experiences and behaviours of different groups of women, how this varies by demographics and geography, and how this relates to wider determinants of health.
At GambleAware we wanted to better understand women’s lived experiences of gambling, so we commissioned a consortium of IFF Research, the University of Bristol and GamCare’s Women’s Programme to explore this in detail (more information here). The aim of the research is to build knowledge about why women in Britain take part in different types of gambling, how women are affected by another person’s gambling, the effect this has on them and their lives, and their experience of support and treatment services.
The research is being conducted in three phases, as shown in the diagram below; the first phase is now complete and we are pleased to be able to share the findings. This includes a rapid evidence review, interviews with Expert Witnesses (e.g., service deliverers, researchers and policy stakeholders), as well as roundtable discussions with Experts by Experience, including women who gamble and women who are affected by others who gamble.
The research so far has captured a wealth of insight relevant to women who gamble or are affected by gambling. Below I have drawn out findings that I found particularly interesting and relevant to GambleAware and the work we commission.
Phase 1 Key Findings
What are the drivers of gambling among women?
Psychological Drivers which include using gambling as an escape, either physically (e.g., as a break from the role of partner or mother) or emotionally (as a way to cope with loneliness or grief). Gambling can also be driven by past trauma; Expert Witness interviews indicated that a high proportion of women who experience gambling harms have experienced past trauma, like childhood abuse and emotional neglect.
Social Drivers for some, gambling is a means to develop and maintain social connections, meaning women may perceive gambling to be primarily about socialising rather than the act of gambling itself. Family structure and gendered norms around women’s responsibilities, where women are expected to be more responsible with money and not let their gambling get out of control, can lead to hidden gambling to avoid the stigma attached to women who gamble and also influence decisions to access treatment and/or support.
Financial and economic drivers where the hope is for gambling wins to be used to contribute to household finances and to relieve financial pressures as well as achieving some measure of financial independence.
Industry practices such as gendered advertising tends to present gambling as a glamorous, fun and social activity that is designed to appeal to women.
What are women’s experiences of harmful gambling?
Women can experience a range of harms from gambling and as someone affected by gambling, below are some examples of the different social, economic and relational harm. The research has identified several different types of harm that women can experience as a result of gambling, more detailed information is available in the summary note:
Health and wellbeing harms: Women’s mental health is more adversely affected by ‘problem gambling’ than men’s, with higher reporting of PGSI items describing feelings of guilt and worse mental health. Gambling can also lead to physical harms particularly in terms of other addictions, with Expert Witnesses noting a high proportion of women experiencing harmful gambling had other addictions (e.g., alcohol and drugs).
Financial harms: Data for England shows that women affected others were more likely to have experienced financial impacts (such as debt and sale of family assets) from harmful gambling than their male counterparts (67% of women compared to 48% of men). Economic control and abuse were also reported as common for women whose partners had gambling problems e.g., controlling financial decisions made in the relationship.
Personal relationship harms: Harmful gambling can impact social networks, particularly given the stigma attached to women and gambling meaning they are more likely to gamble alone, and often at home, as their gambling becomes more problematic.
Criminal activity: The need that women may feel to fund harmful gambling can lead them into criminal activity. In a quantitative study of the prison population in England, 5.4% of men and 3% of women respondents considered that their current offence was linked to gambling; with a larger proportion (13.4 per cent of men and 7.2 per cent of women) saying they had ever committed an offence to finance gambling or pay off debts.
The above gambling harms can often have long term impacts, lasting long after a gambling problem has been overcome. For example, debt incurred can lead to an individual being in debt for a long time, and criminal offences and custodial sentences because of gambling harm remain on an individual’s record, harming their employability prospects.
The current evidence discusses differences in women’s experiences mainly in relation to age and, to a lesser extent, ethnic background and class. There is much less known about how women's intersecting or overlapping social identities of gender, race, ethnicity, class, parental status, religion, or ability shape their experiences of gambling and gambling harm, particularly in a British context.
How can gambling harms be prevented or reduced among women?
Some of the most commonly cited barriers to women accessing support for gambling harms are:
- a belief that gambling is not harmful exacerbated by the fact that there are few women’s voices in the media around gambling and gambling harms.
- stigma especially for women as mothers or carers of children, research found that almost twice as many women cited stigma as a barrier in accessing gambling support compared to men.
- low awareness and understanding of prevention and treatment service offerings
- poor understanding of the needs of women affected by gambling harms by treatment and support professionals e.g. an expert by experience explained that when she sought help for the impacts of her partner’s gambling, she wanted advice on her to keep her house and custody of her children, but the service wanted to prioritise debt advice.
- practical barriers such as childcare options and service accessibility.
- a lack of gender and culturally sensitive support
The research recommended the following to enable women to access support for gambling harms and to establish understanding of the different behaviours and needs of different groups of women:
- Women-only services, designed by women that account for the reasons women gamble.
- Community-based, integrated services that make it easy for women to get the range of help they need as gamblers or affected others.
- Better public information and messaging about the signs of gambling harms for women and the support that is available, emphasising confidentiality and anonymity.
- Wider interventions that address the socio-economic and socio-cultural determinants of women’s experiences and look to disrupt industry practices that are harmful to women.
The early findings from this research have helped to inform GambleAware’s prevention campaign targeted at women and will also help to shape services aimed at supporting women who gamble or who are affected by someone else’s gambling.
In Phase 2 the consortium will explore the views of women in Great Britain experiencing gambling and gambling harms through a series of in-depth interviews; in Phase 3 the findings will be shared with Experts in the field, including Expert Witnesses involved in Phase 1, and potential support responses will be explored. Key Findings from Phase 2 will be published at the end of Summer 2022.
If you require support with your gambling or the gambling of someone close to you, help is available.
If you want free, one-to-one confidential advice, information or emotional support about gambling, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, call the helpline on 0808 8020 133.
The National Gambling Treatment Service gives confidential information, advice and support for anyone affected by gambling problems in England, Scotland and Wales.
 Women’s experiences of gambling and gambling harm; Sharon Collard, Sara Davies and Maria Fannin University of Bristol. Link: https://www.begambleaware.org/sites/default/files/2022-01/WAG-REA-FINAL-20211217.pdf
 Building Knowledge of Women’s Lived Experience of Gambling and Gambling Harms across Great Britain: Phase 1; IFF, University of Bristol, GamCare. Link: https://www.begambleaware.org/sites/default/files/2022-01/11353%20GA%20Women%20and%20Gambling_Phase%201_summary_v04.00_0.pdf
 The Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) measures levels of gambling behaviour which may cause harm to the gambler. It consists of 9 items with each assessed on a four-point scale (0-3). Respondents are placed into categories according to their total score: low risk of gambling harms (PGSI score 1-2); moderate risk (PGSI score 3-7) and problem gamblers (PGSI score 8+).