On September 25, Holland Casino, in cooperation with Gaming in Holland and the European Association for the Study of Gambling (EASG), organized a well-attended mini conference on the topic of women and problem gambling.

In most western countries, overall problem gambling rates have remained flat or fell slightly over the past few years. However, the number of women with severe gambling problems appears to be sharply on the rise. For instance, a recent survey of the Swedish public health authority found that 64% of the country’s gambling addicts were women, up from just 18% in 2015.

In order to raise awareness of this growing problem and to indicate the way forward on possible solutions, Holland Casino, Gaming in Holland, and EASG organized a mini conference to address this issue.

The event consisted of a presentation by leading UK problem gambling expert Liz Karter, followed by a discussion panel featuring Janny Wierda (Holland Casino), Tamara de Bruijn (Jellinek), Fulvia Prever (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale), and Nathalie Smit (Hands 24/7).

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The event was introduced by Holland Casino CEO Erwin van Lambaart, who noted that responsible gambling was a “core interest” of the casino operator.

Gambling as self-medication

Problem gambling expert Liz Karter noted that gambling behavior and motivations tend to be different in men and women. Whereas men are typically drawn to the excitement of gambling, women tend to use gambling as a distraction from unpleasant feelings. “For most women, gambling is a form of self-medication. Gambling addiction is a symptom of an underlying problem, rather than the problem itself,” Karter said.

Women are typically drawn to slot machines rather than table games or sports betting, Karter added. “The goal for these women is to lose themselves. Many female problem gamblers tell me that when they gamble they don’t feel excitement at all. Instead, they feel a consuming numbness. For them, gambling is simply a coping mechanism.”

The “cure” for a female problem gambler lies in improving her relationship with herself and the people surrounding her, Karter believes.

The main thing gambling operators can do to help female problem gamblers is to avoid having a “negative conversation” when bringing up their troublesome behavior. “Female problem gamblers are almost always wracked by guilt and shame,” Karter observed. “In order to get them to open up, it is of paramount importance to offer a sympathetic ear.”

Female and male problem gamblers

Regarding the difference between male and female problem gamblers, Tamara de Bruijn noted that men tend to start gambling earlier in life, but that women develop problems faster.

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While young man form the largest at-risk group among Holland Casino visitors, older women are not too far behind, Janny Wierda observed.

Drawing upon her experiences in the Italian national health service, Fulvia Prever said that problem gambling among women only really took off when certain places that were traditionally used for socializing (indoor malls, dance halls) started featuring VLTs or were converted altogether into gambling venues.

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While there is a large overall gap between the total number of problem gamblers and the number of problem gamblers that seek treatment, this treatment gap is particularly large when when it comes to women, De Bruijn observed, suggesting that women, even more than men, tend to fall through the cracks.

Raising awareness

Unsurprisingly, none of the panelists provided a ready-made solution to the growing problem of female problem gambling. Nonetheless, all speakers agreed that many early-detection and treatment solutions currently seem to be specifically tailored to male problem gamblers. Raising awareness of the issue of women and gambling addiction would thus be a necessary precondition before suitable countermeasures can be developed.

In that regard, at least, the event was undoubtedly a great success, as most of the Dutch gambling sector seems to have been represented.

More photos of the event are available here.