A surge in internet betting during the coronavirus pandemic was followed by a rise in the number of gamblers trying to block themselves from using online casinos and bookmakers, it has emerged.
Gamstop, the national self-exclusion scheme for people wrestling with their gambling, recorded a 21% increase in new exclusions during February, according to figures seen by the Guardian.
The number of people who have signed up is on the verge of reaching 200,000, including 326 new registrations on 22 February, a record for a single day since the service was launched in 2018.
Gamstop said the increase in efforts to avoid gambling appeared to have followed a rise in online betting volumes during November and December.
It said this indicated that “the trend towards more online gambling may be leading to more vulnerable individuals choosing to exclude themselves from all sites”.
More people than ever may have signed up to the scheme, but Gamstop’s figures also demonstrate the difficulty that many people have in staying away from gambling.
In January 2021, 49,328 people out of a possible 177,038 attempted to gamble and were stopped from doing so by their registration with Gamstop, which allows people to shut themselves out of internet gambling for a defined period.
The organisation said this showed that blocking software was not a “silver bullet”.
“With the rate of registrants continuing to rise, I would urge anybody putting self-exclusion from online gambling in place through Gamstop to also seek treatment,” the organisation’s chief executive, Fiona Palmer, said.
“Awareness around self-exclusion schemes and blocking software has been increasing throughout the last year, and its important that we continue to spread the message about what help is available to those who need it most.”
Matt Blanks, a project manager at Peer Aid, a scheme that helps people who are addicted to gambling, began betting aged 11. He lost more than £700,000 and tried to take his own life.
He said being able to block himself from all online operators at once had been a lifesaver. “It gives you that moment’s pause, that bit of breathing space, to ensure that when you have an urge or impulse, you can’t place a bet in that moment,” he said. “That time to reflect can make all the difference.”
People with a gambling disorder are disproportionately likely to be male, but Gamstop has recorded an increasing number of women registering during lockdown.
The number of women who have self-excluded reached 50,000 recently, and the gender split is 71% male, 29% female. People aged between 18 and 34 are the most likely to use the service, accounting for 59% of all registrants.
The figures come after evidence gathering for the government’s gambling review ended last week. In its submission, Gamstopsaid there had been a rise in the number of websites publishing links to black market betting operations that are not signed up to the blocking service.
Membership of the scheme is a condition of being licensed to offer gambling legally in Great Britain.
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