Here we are at the end of March 2020 and coronavirus seems to have taken over our entire world, literally and figuratively. While the obsession with consuming coronavirus-related news and talking with others about the situation is understandable, its important to remember there are other things going on around us too.
For example, March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM), a grassroots campaign spearheaded by America’s National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) and 2020 marks the campaign’s 18th consecutive year.
Unfortunately, a number of the activities scheduled around PGAM were unable to push through due to coronavirus precautions, but we can still do our part by spreading awareness and supporting those who might be tempted to gamble online more than they should while under lockdown.
For the next few minutes, I’d like to shift our attention from the virus to this wonderful cause which has helped so many people and even saved lives. In honor of PGAM, this week I’d like to share Lee Willows’ story, a recovered gambling addict who turned his life around and founded YGAM, now serving as the UK National Charity’s CEO.
“YGAM- we are the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust. We have a social purpose to inform, educate and safeguard young people”, shared Willows during our interview at SiGMA Europe 2019.
“What we do effectively, we build digital resilience and we do that by training teachers, we train youth workers, we train any professionals with influence over young people’s learning, adding a program of digital resilience within their school curriculum”, he said.
Willows shared his horrific gambling addition story with SiGMA delegates, a time in his life that forced him to go bankrupt and almost drove him to suicide. Coming out on the other side, he wanted to use his lived experience to reach out to young people and talk to them about safer gambling.
“I think as problem gamblers, we always sort of fall off the edge of the cliff before we do anything about it. So we can raise awareness a little bit earlier. Hopefully we won’t be that ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, we’re able to stop young people from getting to that particular place”, he said.
According to Willows, himself and YGAM have received a lot “flack” for working collaboratively with the gambling industry, the very industry that provided the products of which he was addicted to. Willows was happy to provide his reasoning as to why he disagrees with such criticism.
“Number one, if you want to work collaborative and effect change within the industry, actually bringing in ‘lived experience’ to the table is really important and I think as a sector the gambling industry have embraced lived experience now”, he explained.
“Myself and other colleagues, we’re talking about safer gambling, responsible gambling, in the boardrooms with the chief executives and they’ve probably never had that before, actually. The problem gambler is probably a customer over there, they’ve not been this close to that customer. So there’s one, education within the industry”, he said.
“Secondly, its an industry that wants to do good. We want to make our resources really relevant for young people so we are creating digital content together, so its that sort of stuff as well”, Willows added.
There are plenty of jurisdictions around the world who are looking into – or already in the process of – regulating different forms of gambling and no one wants an increase of problem gambling as a result. Willows provided his best advice, specifically directed towards the US market, on this vital subject.
“If you look at the alcohol sector, people will always be addicted to drink and people will always be addicted to the products that the gambling sector offer, really”, he said.
“My advice is to learn from jurisdictions like the U.K. We have a regulator who chooses a particular approach that is probably different to other regulators around the world and in other jurisdictions, so I think its actually all of that learning, all of that momentum about responsible gaming, safer gambling that we do day to day in the U.K.”, Willows said.
“That’s the stuff that needs to be applied over in America, I think”, he added.