Is gambling all in the mind?

Is gambling all in the mind? The role of the brain in gambling addiction to be discussed at major conference.

A conference to tackle the problem of serious gambling and find lasting solutions will take place in Cardiff Bay’s Pierhead Building on Wednesday 20th June 2018 (9am-4pm), with contributions from respected professionals in the public health and problem gambling arena and those personally impacted by gambling. The fourth annual Excessive Gambling Wales conference, a Beat the Odds initiative, is sponsored by Darren Millar AM, which aims to enhance current thinking and knowledge about problem gambling. Gambling is not a new phenomenon, but problem gambling is on the increase and with it serious emotional, financial and psychological implications for individuals, families and society at large.

Confirmed speakers include Professor Samantha Thomas from Deakin University, Australia; Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, National Problem Gambling Clinic, London; Professor Rebecca Cassidy, Goldsmiths University; Iain Corby, GambleAware; Dr Steve Sharman, Society for the Studies of Addiction; Wynford Ellis Owen, Specialist Counselling Consultant to Living Room Cardiff and Owen Baily who has experienced his own gambling problems.

Travelling from Australia to give the keynote speech at the conference is Professor Samantha Thomas. A public health sociologist and qualitative expert at Deakin Health Economics, Samantha specialises in understanding the impact of industry tactics on health behaviours. She has worked in a number of areas of health, including mental health, and obesity, but is most well known for her research into the commercial determinants of gambling harm, and public health advocacy responses to these.

Professor Samantha Thomas. A public health sociologist and qualitative expert at Deakin Health Economics.

Samantha is the world’s leading authority on the influence of gambling advertising on children and young adults. Her speech will explore the impact of gambling on children – the changes we are seeing in children’s attitudes towards gambling and how these are being shaped by the industry.

Joining Samantha on the podium is Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a consultant psychiatrist with many years of experience in treating all mental illnesses. She is currently working both in the NHS where she runs a large team at the National Problem Gambling Clinic, at Imperial College where she has an Honorary Senior Lecturer post and is the co-recipient of Medical Research Grants, and at Nightingale Hospital London where she have worked for many years looking after people suffering from anxiety, stress, depression, alcohol problems, drug problems and relationship difficulties.

Access to gambling has never been easier – either on the high street or via a computer or television. With some 1,500 FOBT (fixed odd betting terminals) machines in Wales alone, the average stake on each machine is just over £1,000,000 per year or about £3,000 per day, resulting in a pre-tax profit per machine of £34,000. Figures for England and Wales show that almost 2% of the adult male population can now be classified as pathological gamblers. Many people who struggle with gambling don’t reach out for help until they’re in a crisis situation. Recent research suggests that only 10% of people with gambling problems seek formal help.

Speaking from personal experience at the conference s Owen Baily, a pathological gambler. For many years he was crippled by a major gambling problem. Now aged 35, Owen, who lives in Oxford, is sharing his story in the hope it may help somebody else come to terms with similar problems resulting from excessive gambling.

Owen, said, “When I reflect back on my life I’ve harboured an unhealthy attitude to gambling since my early childhood. My Mum used to work in pubs so I soon became fascinated by the fruit machines. I came from a very poor family and by my adolescence I was looking at ways of making money. Gambling seemed an obvious legal way to make money. As soon as I was old enough I would go down the arcades. I thought i could crack the workings of the old fruit machines to make a profit and soon became obsessed with gambling to the detriment of my social circle. I found it hard to make friends and gambling became my solace. It served a function and there was no risk or threat posed compared to engaging with others.

“I had a compulsion to gamble and it wasn’t long before I graduated to the world of casinos. it was possible to make more money playing roulette than fruit machines. However by the time I was 21 years old they had introduced Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). The introduction of FOBTs coincided with a major period in my gambling journey as it brought the thrills of roulette and fruit machines together and I didn’t have to dress up or travel to a casino. The £500 jackpot was a huge allure. it soon became a major part of my life and my favourite gambling product.

“I won a lot of money through playing FOBTs but also lost a great deal of money. I went from having everything to losing everything. I had a gambling crisis which led to the start of a very self-destructive phase in my life. i quit my job and my home and ran away to Europe. I just couldn’t cope with the fact I’d lost all my money. The plan soon fell apart when I spent the last remaining money I had gambling on board the ferry.

“I eventually made it to Holland but came back to the UK after a few weeks and found myself intentionally homeless. I accessed a homeless centre where I soon developed an alcohol dependency. I couldn’t get work but I did manage to start selling the Big Issue.

“Its a strange irony that if I hadn’t started drinking I wouldn’t have been able to access the help of an addiction facility as gambling wasn’t recognised as an addiction at that time. However with a few months I was able to stop drinking for four years but gambling remained a persistent problem. it was a chronic problem even when I wasn’t drinking and I found it extremely difficult to not gamble.

“Over time I realised the degree of attachment i had towards gambling. It defined who I was and I had to start a difficult grieving process to release myself from the addiction. Without gambling who was I? The process wasn’t easy and i had periods of lapses and relapses and every time I relapsed it took months to get back on track again. It took over a decade to realise i could stop myself gambling for longer periods.

“I’ve now reached a point in my life when I’ve discovered a degree of self-awareness and knowledge and developed a number of coping strategies. Connecting with others is the cornerstone to my recovery as I don’t have any family support to call on. I still have the occasional binge but overall my quality of life has significantly improved and I live my life to the full once more.

“My mind goes straight to gamblers struggling like mad to keep everything in check. My advice is no matter how difficult or problematic a situation may appear, rest assured things will and can get better. Don’t be alone and seek support as there is help out there.

“FOBTs are dangerous there is no doubt and while reducing the maximum stake is a much needed response there are still ways and means to get round it and spend considerably more if you are a serious gambler.”

Since the 2015 conference the Beat the Odds initiative has undertaken considerable outreach work and research regarding the scale of excessive gambling in Wales. It is currently providing support for over 78 excessive gamblers who have sought help as part of their recovery.


For further information please contact Rhodri Ellis Owen at Cambrensis Communications on 07885 416103 or [email protected]

Editor’s notes

The conference is open to anybody with an interest in the subject matter and tickets can be booked by either telephoning 029 20 493895 or email [email protected] or visit