Bingo gambling addiction does exist of course, although only in a small number of people. Nevertheless it is important that people needing help are directed to the right place. For most of us, a quick flutter on the bingo or slots is just that: a few minutes of entertainment, with the possibility of a little win.
However, for some players, chasing that thrill and natural high can become addictive and even destructive. The Internet has made gambling far more accessible, meaning we can play on our laptops, mobile phones, and tablet computers wherever and whenever we want.
Thanks to this, more and more women are developing a gambling problem, whereas in the past, it was mainly men, who were able to feed their habit down at the local bookies. And women are now suffering in silence, too hooked on the next game to give up, too scared to seek help for their burgeoning problem. When I told a friend of mine that I was a bingo journalist, he recoiled in horror and said 'my mum just racked up £75 grand in debt playing that, and she nearly lost the house.'
And that's why bingo must come with a strong health warning. Be aware of the dangers, know the signs, and know what to do should you or a family member get hooked.
And it's not just bingo that's addictive – beware of scratchcards, roulette, poker, slot games, and lottery. And to make it worse, it's practically impossible to turn on the TV or radio without seeing an advert for bingo nowadays – and they all depict happy people having a wonderful time, smiling, having fun, and twirling around in a cascade of bingo balls without a care in the world.
Although bingo is very tightly regulated, it's easy to get addicted, thanks to those friendly chat moderators who are all too eager to encourage you to buy a wedge of tickets; the chat rooms, where you can lose track of time bantering with your buddies and those innocuous pink and cartoony graphics that can make you lose touch with the real world. Many people play to escape problems, and others become convinced that they could change their lives with a multi-million pound win. Bingo is sheer escapism – some people play to escape depression, stress, loneliness, fear, and social isolation.
And there's an even darker side – there's a strong link between gambling and alcohol abuse, and rates of depression and attempted suicide amongst gambling addicts are around double the national average. Furthermore, gambling addicts are more likely to go to prison as a result of their criminal activities, which is usually theft and fraud. In extreme cases, the same techniques used to combat substance misuse are used to treat gambling addictions. It's serious stuff when it gets out of control.
So whilst bingo and casino games may appear fun and fluffy on the outside, there is a small risk it could become a runaway problem, and you need to know precisely what to look out for, and which organisations to contact. Usually, this will be displayed at the bottom of your chosen bingo site.
So, step away from the bingo, take a good look in the mirror, and answer these questions truthfully:
1. Do other people ever criticise your gambling habits?
2. Do you ever lie to cover up how much time and money you spend gambling?
3. Have you lost interest in friends, family, and pastimes as a result of your gambling?
4. If you lose a game, do you try to recoup your losses as quickly as possible?
5. Do you gamble on your own, for prolonged periods of time?
6. Do you play until your bank account is empty?
7. Have you ever resorted to lying, borrowing, or stealing to get gambling money or pay debts?
8. Have you ever felt depressed or suicidal because of your gambling?
If you've answered yes to two or more of these questions, you may need to contact a charity such as Gamcare. Gamcare is an independent organisation that provides support, advice, and information to people suffering from a gambling addiction. There are several different ways in which they offer support, including face-to-face, sessions, online counselling, and even Skype sessions. There is an advisor in almost every region, and the website has an interactive map showing the location of your nearest counsellor.
And even if you don't have a problem, there are few things to remember each time you sit down to play – follow these tips, and you'll have a safe, and enjoyable experience:
Never try to recover cash that you've lost.
It's all too easy to make rash decisions when you've had a glass of wine or three.
Consider lowering your deposit limits and self-exclusion from a particular site.
Bingo is supposed to be a form of entertainment, and nothing more. The odds are stacked against you, and the likelihood of hitting the big time is remote. Remember this, and you should have a safe, happy and fun time, just like the people in the TV adverts.