The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Students hedge their bets as gambling addictions grow

How would we live without our student loans? New data reveals that’s what many are having to figure out, owing to the rise in rates of UK gambling addiction among young people


Combined with all the other fresh freedoms university life affords, it is for most students the first time such a seemingly endless supply of disposable income is there for the taking.

Some choose to relieve their financial impulses with an excessive shopping trip to the Arndale, others get booking for the blow-out summer to come. But worryingly, a record high number of students, more so than any other demographic, are turning to gambling and the odds are not always stacked in their favour.

Most of us would admit to having purchased the odd lottery ticket or football accumulator here and there, or even having put a bet on the Grand National when the time of year comes around. In fact, 80 per cent of young people have gambled at least once in their lifetime.

And it is not hard to see the attraction — in view of high tuition fees and rising living costs, alongside intense study, why work a part-time job that requires fixed hours and travel when the Internet allows the thrill of perfect procrastination material while boosting your budget — from the comfort of your own home?

Relative to the rest of the world, the UK’s percentage of young people who gamble is still pretty low, however they are notably more at risk than the adult population of developing a problem. In 2015-16 GambleAware, the leading charity in the UK committed to minimising gambling-related harm, funded treatment for a total of 379 clients in the north of England aged between 15-24, ten per cent of which were students.

So when does a bit of risk-free recreation become a serious setback? I spoke to one student who, though having never having felt like he was becoming addicted, is well aware of the need to control his gambling and warns against the false sense of security that short-term financial gains can give: “Getting into the habit of trying to make up for your losses is easy to happen without clocking how much you’ve actually been spending”.

New research carried out by ICM shows that one in seven young people, aged 16-24, (14 per cent) in the North-West of England have also lied to a family member about their habit. Though never having bet more than a pound or two at a time, another young person admitted that he felt obliged to keep it from his mum — “I know she doesn’t approve of it so she’d be constantly on my case if I told her”.

What’s more, almost a quarter (24 per cent) of those aged between 11-14 were more likely to go on and lie to their parents about their gambling than their drinking or smoking habits. And while these dependences make themselves physically known to a person, gambling addictions can go on undetected up until the verge of collapse.

In fact, this ‘hidden addiction’ has recently been seen to have direct links to poor mental health, crime and alcohol problems. Of the 379 clients who received treatment between 2015-16 funded by GambleAware, 44 per cent were found to be in some form of debt, eight per cent owed over £10, 000, 16 per cent had experienced relationship loss, and six per cent had experienced job redundancy.

Dr. Jane Rigbye, Director of Commissioning at GambleAware said that, “young people are most at risk of developing a gambling problem, because they perceive risk and chance differently. Parents need to be aware that for a significant minority it can become a serious and hidden problem. We want to get people talking about their gambling habits and prompt them to seek help before their actions become problematic.”

One person I spoke to, whose addiction started as a young adult, explains how letting the situation spiral out of control can result in ruin: “It started out at just one or two pounds a day and grew to 10 or 15. I won 700 once on an accumulator on 6/7 teams, and 500 from a fiver on F1. There were never really any big losses, maybe 40 or 50 was the biggest one. The problem wasn’t that I was putting large amounts on one bet, just small amounts on many. Not winning would have been a better solution”.

When asked how he knew when to stop, he said, “when you have a problem like that you think you’re dealing with it, ban yourself from one website and then you move onto the another. It was a big emotional strain when I borrowed money thinking I could pay the loans back. I’d have no money for next month’s bills and would continue gambling in the meantime”.

“I lied to everybody because I was in quite a lot of debt. I’d get anxious whenever post turned up at our house that my wife was going to open it. I wouldn’t talk to my family about it because I knew they would say that it was the wrong thing to be doing, that I was wasting my money, and I just didn’t want to be told the truth”.

He shares how this has impacted on his life up to the present day, “my wife has taken my card, she monitors everything. I don’t take any money out of my account, if I need anything she uses her card and I transfer her the money back. If I need any throughout the week I have a small allowance of cash, 20 pounds.”

When invited to give advice to someone currently suffering from a similar addiction, he said to “tell friends and family because you need to get support from people you know.”

In order to stop people from developing a gambling problem, and to ensure that those who do receive fast and effective treatment and support, GambleAware is currently piloting a YouTube based, online advertising campaign in the North of England to tackle this issue.

Bootle MP, Peter Dowd has said that “problem gambling can lead to stress, depression, anxiety and emotional difficulties. GambleAware’s new advertising campaign is working to remove the stigma surrounding problem gambling as being the ‘hidden addiction’ by promoting and encouraging conversation amongst young people and those most at risk.”

If you or somebody you know are suffering from any of the above issues raised, head over to the GambleAware website or equally, Sarah Littlejohn, the Head of the University of Manchester’s counselling service, advises “students who are worried about their behaviour in relation to gambling to seek help either from us, their GP or Gambling Anonymous.”