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Slots Addiction

Online slots are fun, fast and have the potential of dishing out massive wins.

But let's make no bones about it: slots can also be extremely addictive.

For a minority of gamblers, a harmless pastime can develop into something more serious. According to GamblingAddiction.org.uk, 350,000 gamblers suffer from problem gambling in the UK. And with online casinos and slots becoming easier to access than ever, that figure will surely keep going up.

In Australia, where problem gambling on slots, or "pokies" is a massive social issue, many sufferers don't get help and GPs are often ill-equipped to spot conditions.

And while it's tough for British doctors to spot addiction, there are many organisations in the UK that can help if you think you may have a problem.

The First Signs of Addiction

Think about how often you play slots. Once a week? Three times a week? Every night? Or at work, on the train home, and in front of the TV at night on a tablet or smartphone?

While the first signs of problem gambling can vary, they can range from: taking time away from work to gamble, getting into debt playing slots (see bankroll management), prioritising slots play over family commitments and friends, and living in denial about how much you're gambling with.

As things get more serious, you might borrow money to gamble with, take out loans and credit cards to feed your habit, or worse - steal cash. The losing spin on a progressive slot suddenly leads to a hundred spins as you chase your losses, or you decide to log off for the night before switching the laptop back on just minutes later for another session.

Knowing When to Stop

If you find yourself constantly thinking about betting on slots, lying to loved ones about your debts and the time you spend gambling, and convincing yourself you don't have a problem, it might be time to get help.

Luckily, there are ways to get help.

On the most basic level, put into place some stop-loss limits to your slots play. Only transfer £50 into a slot, and turn the computer if and when it disappears.

On the flipside, set up stop-win limits too. After winning a big jackpot, it can be tempting to keep 'freerolling' and spinning with what you think is just free cash. Don't fall into the trap: cash out winnings regularly and keep your original stake on the game. Then, as you would do following a big loss, switch off the PC and go and do something completely non-gambling related.

One sign of gambling addiction is the constant thinking about gambling; by walking away from the computer you can put the games out of your mind more easily.

Casino Self-Exclusion

In 2015, online casinos have a duty to their customers to help if gambling becomes more than an enjoyable experience and develops into something more serious.

Casinos will usually list a problem gambling checklist on their sites, but they will also help customers set limits on the amount they can deposit into their gambling accounts over a time period.

If the problem gets more serious, customers can request a time-out period or self-exclusion. During a time-out period, your account will be shut down but ultimately you will have control over when it is to re-open.

Self-exclusion allows players to close their accounts and prevent them from being opened within six months. You can also invest in programs like Betfilter (www.betfilter.com) and Gamblock (www.gamblock.com) which instruct your PC to automatically block any access to gambling sites and casinos.

Getting Further Help

Luckily, you don't need to suffer alone. Tell friends and family if you have a problem, but there are also some excellent resources at hand in the UK. They offer anonymous, professional help, and services are free.

GamCare (www.gamcare.org.uk; Freephone: 0808 8020 133)

A leading provider of support and free counselling for problem gambling in the UK. They operate the National Gambling Helpline which offers help over the phone or directs to online chatrooms.

Gamblers Anonymous UK (www.gamblersanonymous.org.uk)

A UK organisation that holds meetings all across the UK for compulsive gamblers to meet and discuss their problems with other gamblers. Gamanon meetings are specifically tailored towards friends and family of problem gamblers.

National Problem Gambling Clinic (http://www.cnwl.nhs.uk/cnwl-national-problem-gambling-clinic/ ; Phone: 020 7534 6699)

The National Problem Gambling Clinic is based in North London but accepts referrals from across the United Kingdom. They have a mission to advance existing psychological methods of treating problem gambling.

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