Discovering the perils of online gambling in the age of mass advertising

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

On my 18th birthday, I placed my first ever bet: £2 on an audacious sevenfold that was highly unlikely to come through. I somehow predicted all seven results correctly and ended up £540 better off. What are the chances of that? I didn’t believe in beginner’s luck and naively reckoned this kind of result would happen every week. I thought I’d found my calling and envisioned a Casino Royale-esque future. I am not, however, writing this article from my yacht on the Mediterranean or the Beacon Bar. The reality of betting is that you don’t win every week. In fact, if you’re like most people, you seldom win at all. There’s a reason they call gambling a mug’s game.

Online gambling, especially football betting, is an epidemic in Britain that is only getting worse. The Times reports that the rate of gambling problems amongst young people aged 18 to 24 has trebled in recent years to 1.5 percent. This is due to the modernisation of the gambling industry and ease of placing bets. Most major betting companies have mobile apps that allow users to place wagers in a matter of seconds.

Before online betting, many young people wouldn’t have bothered making the effort to go to their local bookmakers. The situation is exacerbated by the sheer scale of advertising. Ofcom states that gambling advertising rose by 1,400 per cent between 2005 and 2012. If you watch a football match on daytime television, you’re likely to be greeted by Ray Winstone’s raspy voice offering you the latest in-game odds. The match may well be a Scottish Ladbrokes Premiership fixture or a Sky Bet Football League match. Hibernian lifted the Scottish Cup last year with “Marathon Bet” sponsorship written across players’ iconic shirts. The problem is widespread, and something must be done. Even if you’re part of the minority that actually wins bets consistently, chances are that gambling companies will find a way to halt your success. Brian Chappell, leader of Justice4Punters, told The Times that “the industry used to work on the basis that 98 per cent of people lost and two per cent won, but the bookies have created an environment over the last decade where they will only trade with people who are hopeless or, worse, have a gambling problem. Nowadays, that two per cent of winners very quickly find their accounts closed or restricted.”

Gambling companies seem to constantly try and weasel their way out of making payments. Even in my own limited experience, I found that William Hill allows you to place bets without verifying your age, but once you claim winnings, they ask for ID. Imagine going into a pub and paying for your drink. The barman puts your money in the till and only questions your age when you try to pick up the drink. Gambling operates on essentially the same ludicrous principle.

One should not underestimate the dangers of betting. It can tear families apart and lead to financial ruin. Whilst the government has pushed for a review of the Fixed Odds Betting Terminal, it ought to do more to minimise advertisements, just as the 2002 Tobacco Advertisement and Promotion Act did. The “Gamble Responsibly” small print is not enough. Tracey Crouch, the gambling minister, said: “The government is committed to ensuring that people, particularly the young and vulnerable, are protected from the risk of gambling-related harm. We are keeping the issue of advertising under review to ensure that sufficient protections are in place, and will not hesitate to take further action if necessary.”

The longer the government waits, the more exposure people have to gambling advertisements. Sport should be enjoyed without the bombardment of images from this immoral industry.

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