The UK National lottery just celebrated its 20th Anniversary and indeed it has a lot to celebrate. As part of its philanthropic work the lottery has donated over £32 billion to more than 430,000 community projects and government institutions. Over £53 billion has been paid out in prize money, creating so far 3,600 millionaires. The launch of the National Lottery was arguably a threshold moment making gambling more accessible to thousands who had never bought more than a raffle ticket at a school fete. So has the National Lottery helped to create not only millionaires, but a rise in problem gambling?
One question I am often asked by clients in recovery is: “Can I still buy a lottery ticket?” I have never yet replied that in my professional opinion it is out of the question. I realize that some might say that gambling is gambling, but I would respond that it is not the act of gambling alone that causes an addiction problem, but the individual experience gained from the act of gambling. In simple terms what can become addictive is either the thrill of anticipation and high the win from fairly fast moving events such as horse racing, sports betting, casino table games and fixed odds betting terminals. Or, addiction to the feeling of being immersed and focused to the exclusion of everything else, such as with traditional slot machines or gambling on a computer or smart phone. Buying a lottery ticket then waiting a week, does not offer either enough intensity via anticipation to provide a high ( any experienced gambler would know the odds of a rush from a lottery win are so remote they would not even bother buying a ticket) or enough consistent occupation to offer escapism through absorption. I have never yet worked with anyone , woman or man, who had a gambling problem with the National Lottery.
Scratch cards, however similar they might seem are a whole different game. Many sadly do become addicted to buying scratch cards because the speed between purchase and potential pay out is much faster than buying a ticket for the National Lottery and so offers a quick succession of highs and lows and the thrill of anticipation. The odds of a win, however small, much higher than that of the National Lottery. It really could be you. And, if at the time before a win you had been feeling low, or desperate for money, the high you feel as a result of that win could leave you craving more of that feeling. You may then find that whatever you do win you spend on more cards, because you value the high more than the money. When you lose your money you feel so low that the only way up is to buy another card. Many people I treat for gambling addiction say the worst thing that happened to them was having that first win.
The National Lottery was the first gambling product to make gambling easily accessible certainly to women who suddenly could slip a ticket into their handbag as they bought the weekly shopping. For a woman who had never gambled before, no need to enter a bingo hall , amusement arcade or the perceived male bastion of the book makers. The lottery ticket offers a little hope, a dream.Twenty years along gambling for an increasing number of women is becoming a nightmare.Women now have in their handbags and homes access to not only lottery tickets and scratchcards but gambling on tablets and Smartphones. Is this a win? Maybe, in terms of freedom of choice in entertainment , but we must remember that different forms of gambling give different experiences, different feelings and essentially we must remain aware that the degree of danger from addiction depends on how we use gambling and how we are feeling at the time of play.
A scratch card win can lift a low mood. Immersion in gambling online can offer escapism from problems. Buying a lottery ticket provides neither in great measure and so is unlikely to get you into trouble.A little gambling of any kind here and they may cause no harm. BUT If you find yourself regularly gambling to change your mood or to block out your problems, you may have the start of a gambling problem. Problem gambling affects people from all walks of life, all across the social and gender divide. If you recognize the signs or have any concerns seek help. Recovery from gambling addiction is real. That person in strong recovery really could be you.