GambleAware Finance and Gambling Webinar

On July 14, GambleAware hosted a webinar on the topic of finance and gambling. During the session, which was chaired by Money and Mental Health CEO, Helen Undy, speakers explored what data and information is available to banks to help protect against and detect possible gambling harms.

Simon McNair from the Behavioural Insights Team also shared highlights from two reports produced using HSBC and Monzo data that examined what customer transactional data can show us about gambling habits.

Professor Sharon Collard from PFRC talked through the new guide for financial institutions, including the main recommendations banks should take forward.

Natalie Ledward from Monzo, also shared her view on the new research and guide, including how it will impact their work going forward to help prevent their customers from experiencing gambling harm.

You can watch the webinar below.

Talk Money, Talk Gambling: The importance of reducing stigma

By Katie Cross

It’s Talk Money Week, a fantastic initiative to encourage people to open up about their financial worries. There are many reasons why people don’t like to talk about money but one reason revolves around shame and the concern people have about being judged.  This is very relevant when it comes to gambling disorder, sometimes called the ‘hidden’ or ‘invisible’ addiction.

People with gambling disorder don’t present with physical symptoms in the same way as drug or alcohol addiction which can make them difficult to detect. The perceived stigma associated with gambling disorder can lead people to feel ashamed, which may result in them hiding their gambling in order to avoid being judged, and refrain from seeking help or treatment.

It is reported that only 2 in 10 people experiencing harms arising from gambling (17%) sought treatment over the last year, rising to 54% for ‘problem gamblers’. This means that 83% of those experiencing some level of harm from gambling, and around half of ‘problem gamblers’, aren’t seeking support, of which 11% and 27% respectively reported ‘stigma and shame’ as a reason for not doing so. Moreover, this stigma and shame can actually lead to an increase in gambling activity, as gamblers might try to win back the money before a loved one finds out, or gamble more as a way of escaping painful emotions. Therefore, addressing stigma is vital if we want to reduce harm and encourage more people to seek help.

Talking to a loved one about gambling disorder can provide the encouragement needed, with 1 in 5 ‘problem gamblers’ saying this would motivate them to seek support. Although potentially a difficult conversation to initiate, it could make a big difference. The Money and Pensions Service guides offer advice on how to start a conversation about money with a loved one. Not everyone has someone to talk to though, and there are also some great podcasts out there from people with lived experience of gambling harms that aim to offer support to those affected and further our understanding of this complex issue.

In addition, we believe there is a strong rationale for the financial services industry to play a greater role in reducing gambling harms. One obvious way to do this is responsible lending. In addition, having access to transaction data puts financial services firms in a unique position to spot early warning signs of gambling disorder. They have the opportunity to reach out to customers, for example by offering budgeting tools, ATM withdrawal limits, spending limits or bank card gambling blocks, all of which might go some way to reducing gambling harms.

Information and help for people with gambling disorder:

Information and help for people affected by someone else’s gambling:

Bank card gambling blockers: a story of progress

By David Collings, Sharon Collard and Jamie Evans

Back in July we published a review of bank card gambling blockers – a feature that allows a debit or credit card customer to block their account or card from being used for gambling transactions. Working with GambleAware, we evaluated the potential for these blockers to help those who want to control their gambling.

Our review brought together bank data on customer use of blockers; discussions with treatment providers, firms and regulatory bodies; and, crucially, insights from over 100 interviews and surveys with people who have lived experience of gambling. It showed that blocker technology works and can help people control their gambling spend, but card blockers need to be more widely available than is currently the case. And, where offered, their design should incorporate elements of ‘positive friction’ in the form of ‘cooling-off’ periods.

Making gambling blocks more widely available

At the time our report was written, eight firms advertised and offered blockers to their customers either on credit cards, debit cards or both. These include five of the nine largest banks and building societies in the UK – Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Santander – together with three other banks – Cashplus, Monzo and Starling.

We estimated that gambling blocks on debit cards are available for roughly 60% of personal current accounts (around 49 million accounts) and at least 40% of credit card customers (roughly 26 million cards). But if Santander and the Royal Bank of Scotland Group were to offer gambling blockers to all their debit card customers, we estimate that blockers would be available for around 90% of current accounts (equivalent to 70 million accounts – 22 million more than at present).

Making sure gambling blockers include ‘positive friction’

Increasing availability of these blocks isn’t enough on its own. Our findings show that blockers need to include ‘positive friction’ in the form of ‘cooling-off’ periods – to encourage time and reflection before someone can gamble again – in order to be effective.

As the table above shows, five of the eight firms offering blockers included a cooling-off period – a period after a customer disables the block before they can gamble again – while the remaining three blockers could immediately be toggled on and off, meaning they functioned more like a light switch than a lock.

But this is a fast-changing landscape. In September Barclays announced it is introducing a 72 hour cooling-off period to its gambling blocker, responding to customer feedback about the positive impact of such a delay, making it the first bank to introduce a cooling-off period off this length. This customer feedback echoes findings from our research, where nearly 60% of respondents with lived experience of gambling felt that a cooling-off period should be longer than 48 hours.

In fact, the message from those affected by gambling was clear: the more positive friction that can be built into a bank blocker, the better. Our research also explored other examples of positive friction that could be beneficial, including making gambling blocks the default on new bank cards, or automatic alerts for third parties such as a friend or family member related to gambling spend.

More to be done

Our interviews with banks highlighted three main motivations for developing and implementing gambling blocks: ‘soft’ pressure from regulators; evidence of customer harm from gambling; and market ‘peer pressure’ as other banks launched gambling blocks for their card customers.

We therefore reiterate our call on the Financial Conduct Authority as part of its forthcoming guidance on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers to recommend that gambling blocks are standard on all credit and debit cards and require customers to wait at least 48 hours between turning off the blocker and being able use that card to gamble.

Finally, introducing gambling blockers shouldn’t be seen as ‘job done’ for banks and building societies – there is much more work to do and the purpose of our three-year MAGPIE research programme is to help progress that agenda. Similarly, other organisations beyond banks still need to be taking robust action to reduce gambling harms.

This blog was originally posted on the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute blog. Read the original post here.

When the funds stop: maximising the effectiveness of bank card gambling blockers

By Sharon Collard, Jamie Evans and Chris Fitch

Our review of bank card gambling blockers published today shows they can be an effective way to help people control their spending on gambling. To make sure more people can benefit from this technology, all banks and credit card firms should offer blockers as a standard feature on their cards, with a time-released lock of at least 48 hours and the option to limit cash withdrawals.

A lot has happened since September 2019 when we officially launched the ‘Money and Gambling: Practice, Insight, Evidence (MAGPIE) programme funded by GambleAware. With the COVID-19 crisis ongoing, there are concerns that regular online gamblers have gambled more during lockdown; while both the House of Commons and the House of Lords have called for urgent reform of gambling regulation so that children, young people and adults are properly protected from gambling harm.

Our review of bank card gambling blockers shows they can help people control their gambling spend but they need to be much more widely available. While eight UK financial firms offer gambling blocks as standard to customers with a credit or debit card (see Table 1 below), as many as 28 million personal current accounts and 35 million credit cards may not have this option. We believe that blockers should be a standard feature available to all card holders across a firm’s full card range.

There is also work to be done to make sure people know about bank card gambling blocks. Nearly half of our survey participants (43%) – many of whom were receiving treatment and support for their gambling – were not aware that bank gambling blocks exist.

The design of bank card blockers is critical to their effectiveness. Some can be toggled on and off by customers at will – making them a light switch rather than a lock. Our review shows that a time-released lock of at least 48 hours should be a standard feature on all blockers – something the House of Lords also supports. To complement gambling blockers on cards, we want to see customers given the option to limit their ATM withdrawals. A ‘third line of defence’ could be the option to block cash transfers from a credit card to an account where the money could be used to gamble.

Despite the Gambling Commission’s recent ban on licensed gambling companies accepting credit card payments, we believe that every credit card should still offer gambling blocks. This is because online gambling sites outside of Britain are not licensed by the Gambling Commission and continue to allow customers in England, Wales and Scotland to gamble via credit card payments. Credit card providers could go one step further by automatically restricting gambling on all credit cards, rather than relying on customers to turn on a block. Even then, there remains a risk that unscrupulous gambling operators engage in ‘transaction laundering’ which renders a gambling block ineffective.

Gambling blocks can help but they are not enough. People with experience of gambling harms want to see financial firms take wider action if they are serious about helping tackle this public health issue. Beyond banks, they want the gambling industry, regulators and the Government to do much more to protect consumers in a world of boundless and frictionless gambling where, in the words of one participant, it is possible to go from “zero to devastation in a very short period”.

Read the report:

A Blueprint for Bank Card Gambling Blockers – ReportA Blueprint for Bank Card Gambling Blockers – Executive Summary


Gamble Aware announce new partnership with University of Bristol to explore potential role of financial services firms in reducing gambling-related harm

The University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC) is today pleased to announce the launch of Money and Gambling: Practice, Insight, Evidence (MAGPIE), a new three-year strategic programme, in partnership with Gamble Aware, which looks at the role that financial services organisations can play in reducing gambling-related harm.

Gambling problems can destroy lives, often leaving those affected to live with severe financial and social consequences. Indeed, around seven in ten people seeking help for gambling problems report that they are in debt, with a third of these owing £10,000 or more. Between 2007 and 2014 there were an average of 500 bankruptcies per year known to be linked to gambling – the true figure, however, may be much higher because people may not disclose that their bankruptcy is related to gambling.[1]

While many people do enjoy gambling safely, the number of people who are ‘problem gamblers’ or who suffer negative consequences as a result of their gambling is far from insignificant. It is estimated that in 2016 nearly a million adults in Britain experienced sizeable negative consequences as a result of their gambling, with around 360,000 adults classified as ‘problem gamblers’ (Gambling Commission, 2019).

Betting on the banks?

Money and gambling are clearly intricately linked, with ‘gambling more than you can afford’ one of the key indicators of a gambling problem. As such, it makes sense that organisations that help us look after our money – the world of ‘financial services’ – might also be able to take actions to help those at-risk of gambling-related harm.

Such firms are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which in recent years has upped its focus on the way that companies treat customers in vulnerable situations – including those living with gambling problems. As a result, firms are paying increased attention to the way that they identify and support such customers.

Indeed, in 2016, PFRC conducted research with over 1,500 frontline debt collection staff working in a wide range of financial services firms, including high-street banks, lenders and debt collection agencies. This research focused on staff members’ experiences of working with customers in vulnerable situations, including those with mental health problems, suicidal thoughts and addictions, and highlighted some of the challenges that they face – whether in identifying ‘vulnerability’, starting a conversation about it, or providing customers with adequate support or sign-posting to other sources of support.

Following that research, we held a number of ‘problem-solving workshops’ with firms, charities and those with lived experience of different vulnerable situations to develop new tools and guidance for debt collection staff when working with such customers. Many of the solutions developed have now been adopted (or, in some cases, even adapted) by firms – highlighting the fact that there is considerable appetite among those working in financial services to do what they can to help such customers.

When the funds stop, stop?

Last year saw the introduction of spending controls or ‘gambling blocks’ by several UK banks – most notably Barclays, Monzo and Starling. Once turned on by customers, these essentially prevent spending on a bank card at gambling outlets (both online or in-person).

We know that people in recovery from problem gambling already use informal workarounds to prevent themselves from spending money on gambling, such as forfeiting their card to a third party or scratching off the card security number. The new solutions from banks, however, allow customers to do this more formally – and, possibly, more successfully.

But at present there is limited evidence about the effectiveness of such spending controls, nor about the characteristics of those who use them. We also don’t know much about the unintended consequences of these spending blockers (for example, whether it leads to customers withdrawing more money as cash and gambling with that).

As such, the first six months of our programme will focus on answering these questions and building the evidence-base around what works for recovering gamblers. We will use this evidence to produce practical guidance for financial services firms around the design of spending blockers.

Get involved in the research

In order to build the evidence-base, we’ll be working closely throughout the project with financial services firms – but, more importantly, our research will place those with lived experience of problem gambling at the centre of the project, as well as those with expertise in the treatment of recovering gamblers.

So, if you’re interested in being part of the research or if you simply want to be kept updated, you can join our money and gambling network by filling out this short form.


GambleAware is an independent charity that champions a public health approach to preventing gambling harms. The charity is a commissioner of integrated prevention, education and treatment services on a national scale, with over £40 million of grant funding under active management. In partnership with gambling treatment providers, GambleAware has spent several years methodically building structures for commissioning a coherent system of brief intervention and treatment services, with clearly defined care pathways and established referral routes to and from the NHS – a National Gambling Treatment Service. Follow GambleAware on Twitter: @GambleAware

GambleAware also runs the website which helps 4.2 million visitors a year and signposts to a wide range of support services. Follow BeGambleAware on Twitter: @BeGambleAware

[1] See RGSB (2015) Understanding gambling-related harm and debt. Available at: