Do not take a gamble with your finances

Almost everybody in the country has, or has had, a flutter at some point, whether just once a year on the Grand National (when we all become horse experts) or slightly more frequently on any one of the myriad sporting events that take place the year round.

But what must it be like to have such deep pockets that, if you are a gambling fan, you could devote serious time to your hobby and not have to worry about the consequences? Poker attracts its fair share of hardcore devotees – and they don’t come any more devoted than Hollywood’s Ben Affleck.

Not just a pretty face

The star of such films as Pearl Harbour and Armageddon, Affleck is actually rated highly by the professional poker playing community for his skills at the table. A couple of years ago, he won the California State Poker Championship.

In doing so, he beat such opposition of serious pedigree, including professional player Stan Goldstein and Chuck Pacheco, president and co-founder of Castle Rock Entertainment. The win allowed Affleck to scoop $356,400 (around £175,000) – not bad for a game of cards.

Just a click away

Of course most of us are never going to get invited to such prestigious events and few of us would have the financial resources to compete anyway. But there are plenty of people who want to recreate the same buzz of going up against international opposition in a winner-takes-all game – and now they can, thanks to the magic of the internet.

According to bookmaker William Hill, online gambling is a "growing" phenomenon which appeals to a "different generation of people" and a "different type of customer", because it provides "so many more opportunities".

That may be so, but is all that choice and accessibility a good thing? Or is it something that is going to cause financial problems for people who don’t know when to stop?

Virtual gambling, real spending

Online gambling allows people to use their debit cards and credit cards to make bets and have any winnings paid into their current account. Of course, any losses are going to come out of that current account (or savings account) as well.

A bad run of luck is all it takes to get stuck in a tight financial corner. And taking out a loan to cover the bills can mean that all of a sudden a spiral of debt has been started which will be a nightmare to get out of.

Ian Boden-Smyth of the UK Insolvency Helpline agrees, saying that the helpline has received so many calls in relation to gambling debts that it has set up a Gambling Support Unit tasked solely with this issue.

He added that gambling debts are particularly risky because it can become an addiction and, "like any addiction, you think that you can get out of it one last time, but that is part of the problem."

No such thing as free money

Of course, overspending on online gambling is just one example of the way that people can find themselves trapped in a cycle of debt and high credit card and loan repayments. A number of commentators have noted that the UK today is in the grip of a high-spending, consumerist culture.

Credit cards, personal loans, store cards and more are all being used freely to fund the kinds of lavish lifestyles that we see the stars enjoying in the TV, or that glossy magazines exhort us to strive for.

It’s nice to have something new…

The flipside is when the bills start piling up. When the outgoings are more than the incomings, serious problems are in the offing. As well as stress and the immediate requirement to curtail all but the most essential expenditure, there can be very serious consequences such as home repossession and bankruptcy.

Perhaps that is why a growing number of people are going for IVAs (individual voluntary arrangements). According to the UK Insolvency Helpline, "there are various different ways out" of debt, but IVAs can be a "soft option" to bankruptcy.

There are no soft options

However, there is no easy route out of a tight financial hole and the body says that the most fundamental piece of advice is to take a good hard look at the household budget.

"Sit down, write down your income, take away your living costs, and see if you’ve actually got any spare income. Always budget for your rent and housing and utility bills first. If you’ve got any money spare, that’s obviously disposable income," a spokesman advised.

It might not make easy reading and there could be some uncomfortable truths to face, but ultimately getting to grips with the finances is better than ignoring the problems and taking a gamble.

Think a debt consolidation loan could be your answer? Click through to MoneyExpert’s consolidation calculator today and see how much you could save.

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