What is gambling?

If you’re worried that you or someone you know might being experiencing challenges with gambling, or a gambling addiction, it can be really worrying. You might want to reduce your gambling or stop altogether, but it can be difficult to do this without support. Luckily there are lots of organisations who can help with gambling addiction, such as BigDeal. Here’s their expert guide to answer all your questions, from what is gambling to how to get support.

What is gambling?

Gambling is when people risk money or anything of value on the outcome of a game involving chance, such as on scratchcards or fruit machines, or betting with friends. If you predict the outcome correctly, you win money. If you’re wrong, you lose the money you gambled.

In general, the minimum legal age for gambling in the UK is 18 years old. This applies to online gambling, adult gaming centres, betting shops, bingo halls, casinos, and racetracks.

How gambling can affect you

Gambling is a risky activity, especially given that experiencing a big win, makes you gamble more to chase that feeling. It’s possible that it could quickly get out of control, leading to harmful gambling. A few of the things which could make this more likely to happen are:

  • Being introduced to gambling at an early age
  • Parents and/or family members who gamble
  • Pressure from your friends or peers to gamble
  • Having a big win

It is important to remember that gambling could affect anybody, at any point in their life.

Signs that someone might be struggling with gambling

Worried that you, or someone you know, may be struggling with or unable to stop gambling? These are some of the common warning signs:

  • Changes in behaviour (might be distracted, moody, sad, worried, anxious)
  • Becoming secretive or lying
  • Missing school, not submitting homework, dropping grades
  • Unexplained time away from home, withdrawal from friends and family
  • Less involvement with usual activities and hobbies
  • Keen interest in gambling conversations
  • Playing gambling-type games online
  • Asking for/borrowing money from family or friends
  • Unexplained debts or extra cash/possessions
  • Feeling anxious, depressed, or worried about gambling

My parent/friend is gambling


Your parents might have a flutter on a horse race or big match or play the lottery each week. If they do things like control the amount they spend and stick to their limits, then it’s unlikely to cause any harm. However, your parents’ attitudes to gambling have a big influence on you. Around four in 10 young people who have gambled in the last week have seen their parents gamble.


Think one of your friends might be getting into trouble with their gambling or being harmed by their gambling? Don’t be confrontational or critical. They’re more likely to open up if you tell them you’re worried about them in a supportive and concerned way. In fact, your friend might be relieved to talk to you.

But be ready for a negative reaction too. They may feel ashamed of their gambling behaviour and could become defensive or angry, or deny being in trouble. The best thing to do is to let them know about BigDeal and GamCare, so they can get help if they need it.


“I felt comfortable opening up about problems which I would normally lie about or change to make it seem less of a problem. However, I was able to speak about everything freely without the worry of judgement. The support sessions were very useful for me because I was able to talk and find new ways of dealing with my problems.” (Young person)

“My support lead made me feel very comfortable about talking about my struggles with gambling and made me more aware as to why I gamble, and she really helped motivate me to change and helped me recognise my achievements.” (Young person)

Support for gambling

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s gambling or want to stop gambling, the first step is to ask for help. We’re here to support you.

  • Live chat: Use our free online chat service, which is open 24 hours a day.
  • Helpline: You can speak to an adviser on the National Gambling Helpline (run by GamCare) 24 hours a day for free on 0808 8020 133.
  • Young People’s Service: Our Young People’s Service is here to help anyone aged 18 and under from anywhere in the UK. Click here to go to the referral form.
  • National Gambling Support Network: If you are aged 18-25 years old, there are a variety of different support options. If you would like support in your local area or face-to-face the National Gambling Support Network (NGSN) has a range of providers who can offer you support. Click here to find out more about the NGSN and their providers.

Next Steps

By Holly Turner

Updated on 20-Feb-2024

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