The number of female gamblers is on the rise, but a UK charity rehab is helping women overcome their addictions.
“I felt so alone, I truly believed I was the only female gambler in the world.”
Stacey Goodwin was 18-years-old the first time she gambled in a betting shop.
“My life changed the moment I put that first pound coin into a slot machine”, Goodwin, now 30, tells Euronews.
After she won enough money to fund a night out, Stacey became hooked. However, her winnings quickly turned to losses.
Eight years later, and with the help of Gordon Moody charity, Stacey was able to overcome her crippling gambling addiction at a point of no return: "I made a very real decision that I was either going to put myself into prison or go into rehab."
Last year, the charity opened the world’s first-ever female residential rehabilitation centre, in the UK.
“It was the first time I met other women who suffered from a gambling addiction and probably the most important moment in my life," says Stacey.
The charity already had a fourteen-week programme for male gambling addicts, but altered its approach to fit the specific needs of female gamblers with severe gambling addictions on a five-week course.
Many participants are "likely to have thought about suicide or attempted suicide because of gambling-related harm", explains Rob Mabbett, the charity's Director of External Engagement.
Following their stay at the temporary site in Birmingham - which includes one-to-one sessions with therapists - the women are provided with eight weeks of aftercare.
“Our women’s residential treatment centre will open in its new permanent home in July 2023 and will continue to help more women reclaim and rebuild their lives free from gambling addiction", says Mabbett.
The charity plans to increase its capacity by 60% next year, as it currently receives 160 applications for just 36 places available on its female residential scheme.
Surge in gambling addiction
Gordon Moody is one of many charities reporting a surge in the number of female gamblers reaching out for help - reporting a 76% increase in calls from women last year.
According to a 2022 survey by the UK Gambling Commission, 43% of surveyed women had gambled in the last four weeks.
Charities say it generally takes years between the moment where individuals first gamble, and when they call for help. Experts are still waiting to see the full effects that COVID pandemic lockdowns had on addiction rates.
But so far, Gordon Moody has reported an 80% rise in demand for their services compared to pre-pandemic levels.
How does online gambling target women?
A few months into her addiction, Stacey realised she “couldn't make enough money quickly” in betting shops, so she shifted to online gambling.
As she relished in the new-found anonymity of the internet, the cycle continued.
“Match and horse race betting - which can be quite male - never appealed to me as I never had the patience”, explains Stacey.
She became exclusively addicted to the quick fix of online slot machines and scratch card games “the bright and vibrant colours of these games lure women in.”
Women in the UK tend to play more often, spend more, and play for longer than men, according to data analysed by NatCen and the University of Liverpool in 2021.
Tackling the stigma around female gambling
“I would move from one betting shop to another. I was ashamed at how long I was spending there and hyper-aware that I was the only woman there,” Stacey tells Euronews.
The sense of shame became as serious as the addiction itself.
“I went to see a doctor who told me to go see a counsellor but to keep my addiction a secret from my friends and family.”
To tackle this stigma, Stacey decided to launch a TikTok account dedicated to helping gambling addicts.
“I decided to be brave and share my story. I hadn’t seen anything like it online”.
The account, launched in the midst of the Covid-19, pandemic now boasts close to 200k followers. Stacey is inundated daily with messages asking for advice - and is also approached in public by women.
“It’s both heartwarming and sad that so many women reach out to me”.
“We need to make sure that there is a safe space that these women feel comfortable going to if I’m not able to reply”, explains Stacey, who has also written a book about her journey to recovery.
In the UK, young women have reported feeling less confident than young men that they will be able to access the necessary help, according to a survey commissioned by YGAM (Young Gamers and Young Gamblers Education Trust).
Though charities like Gordon Moody help women at the severe end of addiction, services are available across the UK for women at different stages. Stacey hosts a fortnightly Zoom meeting for women struggling with gambling addictions at all ends of the spectrum with the charity Epic Restart Foundation.
A European issue
Rising female gambling addictions are a European phenomenon.
In 2019, the amount of female gamblers in Sweden overtook the number of male gamblers for the first time.
“There is no upper end to the amount of people gambling - we have seen a continuous increase in recent years”, Dr Ulla Romild, an analyst at The Public Health Agency of Sweden tells Euronews.
The study revealed that among 45,000 people with a gambling addiction, 64% were women.
Stacey Goodwin says the more people talk about gambling and addiction, the less stigma there is around the issues.
"I put myself out there on the internet to show that the shame I carried was something nobody else should."