During the festive season holidays South Africans will be flocking to entertainment hotspots to relax and have fun, and the entertainment may involve some form of gambling.

Gambling can be an enjoyable holiday activity if it’s controlled and managed. However, it can quickly spiral out of control, ruining relationships and draining finances if you are unaware of the early-warning signs of problem gambling.

The South African Responsible Gambling Foundation (SARGF), which creates awareness about responsible gambling and how to minimise the harmful effects of problem gambling, defines problem gambling as when you have the continuous urge to gamble despite the negative consequences that may occur as a result.

“We estimate that 3% of South Africans can be classified as problem gamblers, with 0.5 % classified as pathological gamblers,” says Sibongile Simelane-Quntana, the executive director of the SARGF. 

Pathological gamblers have an impulse-control disorder that leads them to gamble uncontrollably, which leads to significant damage to themselves and others. 

The foundation manages a 24-hour helpline that provides free counselling and psychological support for gamblers and their families if a gambling problem develops.

“During this time of year, we are expecting an increase in the number of calls to our helpline, as people have greater access to money from bonuses and 13th cheques being paid out and more spare time on their hands,” Simelane-Quntana says.

Warning signs

The foundation, through the National Responsible Gambling Programme, has issued the following list of warning signs that may indicate you have a gambling problem:

• Constantly thinking about and being preoccupied with gambling;

• Lying about or concealing gambling activities from family and friends;

• Attempting to recover losses by further gambling;

• Taking extreme measures in order to get money with which to gamble;

• Preferring to gamble than attend other important events such as family get-togethers;

• Feeling anxious or moody when not gambling;

• Racking up large debts because of gambling activities;

• Experiencing a deterioration in close relationships as a result of gambling;

• Neglecting personal needs such as sleeping, hygiene and eating in favour of gambling; and

• Manipulating people into lending or giving you money to be used in gambling.

Like any addiction, the first step to receiving help and support is admitting to the problem. 

You can phone the SARGF 24-hour, confidential and free helpline on 0800 006 008 or email [email protected]