A gambling support service recorded nearly 50% less contact with people during the initial weeks of lockdown, according to figures from GamCare.
The day before lockdown was announced (22 March) GamCare found that 541 people had contacted (voice calls, chats and call-backs) the helpline that week, nearly 30% less than the previous week.
GamCare is the UK’s largest provider of support and treatment for those affected by gambling harms and is funded by the independent charity GambleAware.
GamCare head of marketing and communications, Catherine Sweet, stated that this was down to more immediate concerns for those affected than gambling.
“During the initial phase of lockdown, GamCare saw fewer calls overall to our helpline, as people either had concerns about privacy or were focused on dealing with more immediate health, financial or other concerns,” she said.
“We did note a rise in the number of callers seeking to lift the self-exclusion which they had previously put in place with GAMSTOP.” This is a service that prevents users from accessing online gambling in the UK.
Whilst the week before lockdown saw an immediate drop in contact this trend continued for the next three weeks suggesting either people weren’t betting at all or weren’t seeking support.
As a result of this nearly 50% less people started treatment for gambling in April as had started at its peak in January.
Despite the statistics, GamCare pointed out that this trend is similar to treatment of other health conditions during the pandemic as people fear overloading health services.
GamCare CEO Anna Hemmings said in a statement: “We know that factors which can contribute to the experience of gambling-related harms, such as financial distress, isolation and boredom, certainly increased as a result of COVID-19 and lockdown measures.
“Combined with the wide availability of online gambling, there is a concerning context for people at risk.
“As lockdown now eases, we have to be aware of the potential longer term impacts on mental health which could in turn lead to an increase in harmful gambling behaviour.”
Whilst full statistics haven’t been publicly announced it was confirmed that call volumes at GamCare have since returned to pre-lockdown levels.