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Entertainment

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Online casinos have been around in some form since 1994, but – as with everything on the Internet – their popularity has skyrocketed in the last decade. The global online gambling market is forecasted to increase to almost 60 billion US dollars by 2020.

Behind those figures are millions of people around the world enjoying online gambling – and a small minority for whom gambling becomes a problem, because of debt, addictions or both. For most people, it’s perfectly possible to have a great time in an online casino or other internet gambling site: you just need to set healthy limits and check in with yourself to be sure you’re still having fun. Here’s how.

Set limits

Set limits

Before you sit down with your phone or in front of your laptop, make a plan for your gambling session – bonus points if you write it down! Decide how much time you are going to spend this session: your maximum time limit should probably be an hour. Time flies when you’re having fun, so set a timer. Next, set a limit for how much money you are willing to lose; and when you will stop even if you’re winning (for example, when you’re up by 25%). When you hit your time limit, your loss limit or your winning limit – whichever comes first – then stop. No exceptions!

Be realistic

When you’re setting your limits as above, make them achievable. If you say you’ll only play for five minutes when you know you’re usually in that online casino for an hour and a half, you’re just setting yourself up to fail. Conversely, deciding not to quit until you’ve doubled your money will leave you sitting there all night.

Remember that:

  • This is a form of entertainment which you pay for, and it is not designed to make money for you
  • These are games of chance rather than skill
  • Over time, you are statistically certain to lose money. This is why it’s important to set a limit on when you will quit while you’re winning.

Keep track of your gambling

You remember above we told you to write down your limits before you start? Well, keep that notebook and pen handy, because you’re going to need it again.

It’s easy to get a distorted idea of how much time and money you spend on gambling if you don’t keep accurate records – just like the people you see on Secret Eaters, who don’t have a realistic idea of just how much they snack. Meanwhile, there’s some evidence to show that people who do keep records are able to stick to healthy habits: for example, a food journal helps you achieve your nutritional goals, and a money diary can help you save. Keep a gambling diary to write down how long each session is and how much money you win or lose – and keep a note of how you felt at the beginning and end of each session. This will help you avoid gambling when you’re in a bad mood (see ‘Be a happy gambler, below’) and to keep an eye out for any negative patterns (see ‘Recognise the signs of problem gambling’, below).

Tell your friends

If you’ve found an online casino you really like, sharing it with your friends can have multiple benefits. Firstly, you’re avoiding the ‘secret’ gambling that can become problematic, and creating a network of accountability so you all have someone to check in with and make sure you’re all still having fun. And secondly – it makes your online gambling more sociable, and you get to tell your friends about something you think they’ll enjoy.

Take regular breaks

One of the great things about an online casino versus a bricks-and-mortar venue is that you can leave and come back in with ease. Even during your set time limits, be sure to take a break from the screen every now and then – set more timers for this if it will help. Get up, walk around, do some stretches, make a cup of tea, maybe even go outside for a breath of fresh air. This will help limit the damage to your eyes and posture from sitting still and staring at a screen too long. It will also help you keep the game in perspective, which will make it easier for you to stick to the healthy limits you’ve set yourself.

Make sure it’s not your only hobby

You might find yourself looking forward to your visit to the online casino at the end of a hard day – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just be sure it’s not the only thing you’re looking forward to. What are you reading? When is it your next night out with the girls, or with your partner? Online gambling is fun, but don’t neglect all the other fun stuff in your life.

Be a happy gambler

If you find yourself gambling as a response to stress, worry or anything that is making you unhappy, that’s a cause for concern. Partly because it suggests you’re not dealing with that negativity head-on, and also because when you’re in a bad mood, you’re more likely to gamble outside those healthy limits and to take dangerous risks. Hit the online casino when you’re in a happy place, and take out those frustrations on exercise or Mumsnet instead.

Recognise the signs of problem gambling

problem gambling

Some of the indicators that gambling might be turning into a problem for you are things we’ve already referred to in this article: for example, feeling unable to stop even when you’ve passed a certain amount of time or money spent on gambling; hiding your gambling from friends and family; making gambling the sole focus of your attention and neglecting other areas of your life; and gambling in response to life stress or unhappiness. Other signs include mood swings and financial trouble. Complete and review your gambling diary regularly – and be honest with yourself – so you can spot a problem if it comes up.

The NHS website has a questionnaire you can complete to get an idea of whether you should be concerned about your gambling behaviour, and where you can go if you ever need help.

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