Is Online Gambling Safe in the UK?
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Is Online Gambling Safe in the UK?

Is Online Gambling Safe in the UK?

The dangers of online gambling in the UK are real. While most online casinos have safeguards in place, it's still important to know the signs of gambling addiction.

In the first three months of 2019 alone, gamblers in the UK lost almost £14.4 billion. Over the last few years, gambling-related hospitalizations in England more than doubled. In some cases, gambling addiction led to crimes, to get money to fund the addiction. 

Needless to say, gambling addiction is a growing problem in the UK. However, if you know how to proceed with caution, internet casinos can be a lot of fun. And, you might just come away with a few extra pounds in your pocket.


The UK Ranks High for Gambling Addiction

Among the top five gambling countries, the United Kingdom ranks number one, and Ireland comes in at number two. In third place, Finland, Australia ranks number four, and Singapore comes in at number five. Apparently, living in the UK increases the dangers of online gambling addiction.

The fact is, gambling in the UK, especially on sports, is a tradition. Whether it's gambling on football, horse racing, tennis, or games of chance, Brits love gambling. In fact, according to the UKGC, UK residents lose more than £15 billion on all types of gambling annually. Most gambling in the UK is done on internet casinos, with the most popular games being video slots and bingo. 

Nearly 9,000 legal betting shops dot Great Britain, and more than 100,000 people in the UK work in the gambling industry.

According to studies conducted by the Gambling Commission:

  • Problem gamblers are 5x more likely to be male than female
  • More likely to be retired, students, or unemployed
  • Males aged 25 to 34
  • More likely to be Black or other ethnic minority, than Asian or White
  • Likely suffering from a mental health issue
  • More likely suffering from low levels of wellbeing

In the UK, estimates indicate that nearly 430,000 people suffer from a gambling addiction, and the biggest percentage of problem gamblers are young men between the ages of 25 to 34.

Fortunately, there are several sources of help for problem gamblers in the UK, including the NHS. Also, the Gambling Commission has helpful resources, and there are many private providers helping gambling addicts.


What is a Gambling Addiction?

An addiction is a bio-psycho-social disorder in which a person engages in repetitive behavior, including gambling. An addict engages in these behaviors, despite being harmful to themselves and others.

For gambling to meet the criteria for an addiction, the person must exhibit compulsiveness, an altered mood, and withdrawal symptoms. It's long been known that genetics and environment contribute significantly to a person's susceptibility to addiction.

Any addiction can provide a “dopamine fix”; experts believe that the neurotransmitter dopamine plays a part in addiction by driving a person to seek out pleasurable experiences. The risks associated with a gambling addiction could be exacerbated by the very nature of “screen time”; internet addiction disorder simply can add another layer to the problem of compulsive gambling.

The following signs would indicate that you or someone close to you has a gambling problem:

  • spending more time and money on gambling than affordable
  • It's hard to stop or control the urge to gamble
  • Arguments with family or friends about gambling
  • No interest in hobbies or activities like spending time with family or going out with friends
  • Constantly talking or thinking about gambling
  • Gambling until all of your money is lost
  • Lying or hiding your gambling from others
  • Gambling to get out of financial trouble or chasing losses 
  • Borrowing money, not pay bills or selling possessions for gambling money
  • Gambling more and for a longer time to get the same “high”
  • Neglecting work, family, school, household responsibilities and personal needs due to gambling
  • Constantly feeling worried, anxious, depressed, guilty, or irritable.

The dangers of online gambling only increase the likelihood of developing a gambling addiction.


Why UK Online Gambling Might Be More Addictive Than Casino Gambling 

Beyond the addictive nature of screen time, there are other reasons why internet gambling could be more addictive than gambling in a casino.

For example, if a problem gambler disappears into a casino for days, family, friends and the casino staff will notice. On the other hand, online gamblers can hide their gambling and no one will notice. Gambling addicts can play on their phones from anywhere, without anyone noticing they are gambling.

Traditional gambling addiction treatment means developing a plan to avoid play. Generally, that means avoiding casinos, video lottery terminals, pubs, bookmaker shops, and racetracks. However, with online gambling, this type of avoidance is nearly impossible. As long as a problem gambler has a cellphone or a computer with internet access, he or she can gamble.

Easy access to a bank account also increases the dangers of online gambling. Unfortunately, adding funds to a gambling account is always just a click away. This makes impulse gambling and "chasing losses"even worse than when a gambler needs to physically go to a bank machine.

People often forget that money online is real money. Regrettably, gamblers often use credit cards to fund an online gambling account, racking up thousands of pounds in debt. That not only harms them, but also their family and their business.

Online gambling is convenient and can be more comfortable than playing in a casino. This allows gambling to take place without the scrutiny of family and friends. Also, internet casinos are designed with an immersive interface, which captures and engages the player's attention.

Moreover, an internet casino allows players to gamble after heavy use of drugs or alcohol; a real, physical casino would likely send an inebriated player home in a taxi. These factors can increase the time spent gambling and the amount of money spent.


Illegal, Unregulated Gambling Sites Pose More Dangers of Online Gambling

Since many countries have outlawed online gambling, most internet gambling sites are registered, licensed, and operate from countries where internet gambling is legal.

However, while countries like Panama, Costa Rica, and Curacao do license online casinos, regulatory oversight is extremely lax. That means, online gambling websites registered in these countries are not well regulated. It could be almost impossible to know who owns the online casino and there might be no legal way to pursue fraud. Moreover, these unregulated casinos have no “responsible gambling” safeguards in place. That makes offshore casinos even more dangerous for someone with a gambling addiction.

Gamblers may also give their credit card details and personal information to a disreputable offshore gambling site, putting themselves at risk for credit card fraud and identity theft.

While rare, offshore gambling sites can be operated by organized crime syndicates. For example, in 2016, more than a dozen members of New York's notorious Genovese crime family were indicted on charges related to the website. 

Salvatore “Sallie” DeMeo, a Mafia “made man”, was the alleged ringleader of the online crew. Authorities say the Mafia handled millions of dollars in sports bets through the Costa Rican website. 

But that was not the first online gambling website associated with the Genovese crime family. In 2014, more than a dozen people linked to the Genovese family, including  capo Joe Lascala, went to prison for, also operating out of Costa Rica. 

If you choose to use an illegal, offshore gambling website, keep in mind, crime cartels could be involved. Unknown to you, your money could go to illicit activities such as drug smuggling and human trafficking.


Tricks Used By UK Online Gambling Sites to Keep Gamblers Gambling

Offering "free-to-play" versions of a game is among the most common "tricks" used by online casinos to keep players “engaged”. The underlying goal is to acquaint new players with the idea of winning; however, those wins will not turn into cash unless there is gambling, with real money placed into the player's account.

Success with the free games can make inexperienced players feel more comfortable when they eventually place real money bets. This can be especially true when they are seduced by generous bonuses.

Another trick used by internet gambling sites is to ensure their new players “win”. This can be accomplished by inflating the odds to favor the player when they're playing for free. This causes the player to wrongly assume that the wins they have with the free version will translate into real money success. Naturally, the odds change to favor the house once real money is played.

Online poker sites may also use “bots” to represent what seems like real human players. Moreover, poker bots can be programmed to encourage real human players to bet more.

Online poker players can also fall victim to deceptive opponent practices. For example, a common deceptive practice involves collusion between several players who are in the same physical location. The gang then shares information, colluding together, to gain an advantage over other players.

Traditional casinos often ban problem gamblers, but compulsive gamblers can go online any time they wish. Obviously, this increases the dangers of online gambling.

Typically, reputable online gambling websites have policies restricting access to those who voluntarily ban themselves, as well as underage players. However, the ability to enforce these safeguards is debatable. Also, a player who is banned from one gambling website can easily begin playing at another.


Finding a Safe Online Casino in the UK

In the UK, legally it is required that all online gambling sites must be overseen by the UK Gambling Commission. Gambling sites hosted in other countries, such as Malta, use organizations such as the Malta Gaming Authority to regulate sites operating in the UK. 

Verified UK gambling sites will prominently display the UKGC logo, often at the bottom of the page. Clicking on the logo will display the gambling website's license from the UKGC. 

While the dangers of online gambling are real, the following tips can help to minimize the risk.

  •  Ensure that the gambling website is licensed by the UK Gambling Commission
  •  Check that all transactions are protected by up-to-date encryption technology
  •  The website uses known, secure online methods for deposits and withdrawals
  •  Games are from known developers 
  •  The games feature additional fairness tests
  •  Friendly, efficient, and available customer support
  • speedy payouts


Additional Internet Safety Tips

  •  Look for the lock symbol next to the URL bar as proof of encryption
  •  Only use known, secure WiFi networks for money transactions
  •  Use very unique passwords
  •  Keep your device software updated
  •  Use PIN or fingerprint security on your mobile device

Finally, look for online casinos and poker rooms that are independently audited by eCOGRA or a similar  independent auditor. This will ensure that the games are fair and that the company's banking system is secure. 

With a little bit of research, the dangers of online gambling can be minimized. Choose to only play at licensed, regulated casinos, that are regularly audited.


Online Gambling Can Be Safe and Fun, With the Right Precautions

After reading this, you may conclude that the dangers of online gambling are far too risky. But with a little bit of caution, it can be a fun hobby that can even earn you a few pounds. 

First of all, if you begin to sense that you are developing a gambling addiction, stop! The good news is, only a small percentage of gamblers develop a serious addiction affecting their personal and professional lives. 

Second, make sure that the gambling websites that you choose are licensed and regulated in the UK. Third, choose sites using games from reputable and well-known developers, and monitored by independent auditors.

Also, don't neglect your other hobbies, and be sure to enjoy other activities besides gambling. Be sure to spend some of your winnings on quality time with your friends and family. 

There is no reason to fear the dangers of online gambling, as long as you remain aware of them. Have fun, and play safely!

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