New tobacco? The risks of students in the gambling industry

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As a student at university, your experience is most likely of being away from home for the first time and learning independence, a large part of which means managing finances. That experience can be transformative, but for many students, it can also mean that they encounter predatory industries like gambling without guidance and help to fall back on.

Gambling in the modern industry has drawn comparisons to tobacco smoking at its peak in the UK. While the UK bans any form of tobacco advertising and many organisations like the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) have finally followed suit, gambling sponsorships are rife in modern sport, especially football. This is despite strong arguments from the House of Lords that gambling laws need review and that Premier League clubs should remove gambling shirt sponsors.

Tapping into social media hype, plugging rumours on deadline day, and making silly gags designed to rile up attention

This measure faces resistance at lower levels of competitive football, as the English Football League argues that working with gambling sponsors on related harm is of “greater benefit” than a ban, also acknowledging the huge impact of this money in lower-division football. Football Index, self-styled as “the stock market of football”, collapsed in March of last year, leaving thousands of people drawn in by advertisements focused on dividends rather than the real risk involved.

While most people who gamble can do so with moderation, where these companies make their money is from the select group that struggles with addiction issues. In the UK, gambling outlets are far more prevalent in the most deprived areas of the country than in the wealthiest, deliberately targeting people who are more vulnerable to the addictiveness and false sense of control involved.

If it’s part of the strategy for these companies to target vulnerable individuals, it’s hardly surprising they’ve become increasingly interested in students. Tapping into social media hype, plugging rumours on deadline day, and making silly gags designed to rile up attention, the market is seeping into younger environments.

Recent research indicated that gambling is intensely popular among UK students, with 80% of those surveyed saying they gambled and 20% saying they spent more than £50 a week on it. Should more be done by the Government regarding gambling advertisement, and is it possible to directly protect university students? A difficult argument presents itself here: it is not desirable to prioritise one subgroup over another. Everyone can suffer equally from the consequences, but students are often without an income to supplement the costs of gambling, and are, by the nature of university, given a large loan with no previous financial experience.

Gambling is intensely popular among UK students

Preventing people from placing bets without proof of ID could put a hard age lock on betting, but there’s no guarantee that people wouldn’t get around that by using gambling companies not based in the UK. The same goes for the risk that gambling companies would provide incorrect information to regulators, such as William Hill did when asked to hand over regular analysis of the impact of Covid lockdowns on customers.

Amidst this debate, the Department for Media, Culture and Sport is engaged in a review of almost every aspect of gambling law which looks likely to significantly alter the legal landscape. Despite concerns from some, including the British Gambling Commission, that the expected strictness of the review might push consumers to unregulated online markets, the Government has also indicated a willingness to increase the budget of regulatory bodies to punish grey-area companies.

If the review when published can achieve aims of limiting the danger of self-destructive and addictive behaviours for students and beyond, there is potential that gambling can lose its association with the harm it so often causes to the lives of those the industry is built on.

Image: Ralf Roletschek via Wikimedia Commons

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