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Emily D. Swoboda

Gordon House Making a Difference with Online Programs

15 February 2007

If you break a leg, you go see a doctor. If you have a problem with online gambling, there should be a way for the online gambling industry to provide help. That's the way The Gordon House Association sees it. It seems simple enough. So, why aren't more companies jumping on board?

The Gordon House Association, a British charity organization that provides residential treatment to gamblers recovering from addiction, also runs an online support service. launched on Nov. 5, 2004, which was Guy Fawkes Day in England, a day known for bonfires being set all over London.

"We launched it on that day for a reason because we wanted put a rocket behind the online gambling industry to say: 'Hey, if people gamble online they need help online,'" said Faith Freestone, head of services for Gordon House.

The site is set up for people who have reached a point at which gambling has begun to control their lives and affect their relationships and livelihoods. They come to Gordon House after they admit they need help.

The site has two main components: a forums section and virtual group therapy workrooms. At last count, hosted 1,772 members worldwide on its forum service.

"One of the most important things we're finding (with the forums) is that it really is an international, 24/7 way of people offering support to each other," Freestone said. "We have clients from all over the world. I think yesterday when we were looking we've got people from 33 different countries that were actually coming through and contributing to the forums. And what's significant is that even though they're in different countries, because they are all addicted to gambling, they share something so that they can give each other support."

And it is not only problem gamblers and gambling addicts using the site. It also caters to those affected by loved ones with a gambling problem through online forums and group therapy workrooms. And the forums provide a safe, common place to discuss all topics.

"On the forums it's a way of communicating with each other--not just about gambling issues, but about issues in life too--and anybody can start a strand on the forum and get feedback on that," Freestone said. "So, although some sections of the forum are quite gambling specific, there are other parts where people are just sending positive messages and it's quite lighthearted. And it's a balance that people need in recovery, you know, you have to have the laughter and the jokes to keep you going."

The forum also has two permanent threads: "Ask Mick" and "Ask Storm." Mick is a former resident of Gordon House who answers questions about residential treatment from an insider's perspective. Storm is married to a former resident, and she works primarily with family and friends affected by someone with a gambling addiction.

Freestone said the forums have always been part of the service, but they have only recently taken off and grown in popularity.

The forums are monitored by volunteers to avoid rogue threads and damaging posts, he added.

The group therapy service is a relatively new offering on The site offers 21 hours of supervised groups per week, and each group has a maximum of 12 people at a time. The sessions are monitored by trained volunteers, some of whom are recovering gambling addicts themselves.

"The whole system is overseen by accredited counselors, but we do have our volunteers, many of whom are ex-residents or forum members who are trained to actually monitor the groups, as well," Freestone said.

The group therapy rooms are open Sunday through Friday at various times and range from groups for problem gamblers, groups for friends and family, groups for Gordon House residents and community groups.

"The groups are more focused, where the forums tend to have a life of their own," Freestone said. "They will be discussing a specific issue."

Freestone said more than 50 percent of members are online gamblers.

Some users come to the site search engines and direct e-mails and some online gambling sites, such as Betfair, are actually including a link to the site, but there could be more, Freestone said. She is hoping other sites will follow Betfair's lead, though she said Gordon House is in talks with other sites.

"Every treatment service that gets started has to start somewhere," Freestone said. "Once one online gambling site decides to take that step and put the link through, others then, if they are socially responsible, will follow suit. There are different categories of online gaming providers. Some are very socially responsible and there are others who wouldn't have any interest in linking a site to a help line."

There is one simple link between the online gambling industry and the problem gambling counseling industry, and that is gamblers. Freestone's belief is that both sides are fighting for the same cause--to stop gambling addiction--and working together is key.

"What we're here for is to help people with problem gambling," Freestone said. "The online gaming industry doesn't want problem gamblers on their sites. We're actually there to work with the industry and help the industry if somebody comes to them for help, or the industry thinks they've got a problem. There's a simple click-through button where it's no longer the online industry's problem, it's actually our problem. If you've got a problem with gambling there is a way, by working together with the online [gambling] industry, that people can click through for help. And that's beneficial both ways: it's beneficial to the industry and it's beneficial to society. That's our job; that's what we're good at -- that's what we do. We've got a long history of working in treatment and we're quite proud of it."

Gordon House Making a Difference with Online Programs is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda