In September, a new clinic for gambling addiction was opened in Leeds. It is the first of it’s kind outside of London, as part of the new NHS Northern Gambling Service in partnership with the charity GamCare and funded by Gamble Aware, another charity focused on tackling problem gambling. The choice of Leeds as the destination for this northern clinic is not just because of geographic convenience – it is estimated that up to 10,000 people in the city are addicted to gambling.
Gambling is a highly addictive habit which can have a variety of consequences. The most obvious of these is the losing money and building up debts, which can cause people to lose their homes and divide families. The addiction can also lead to crime and severe mental health issues, notably alcohol abuse, severe depression and suicidal thinking. In fact, it is estimated that an average of one life is lost every day as a result of problem gambling.
The British government seems to have been going on a crusade against gambling in the past two years. A notable government move against the gambling industry was the law introduced in 2018 which reduced the maximum amount of money that can be wagered on a slot machine in a high street betting shop from £200 to £2. However, the ban has been criticised for leading to shop closures and job losses, and also does not extend to online gambling.
Young people have been gambling more and more in recent years, largely as a result of the availability of online gambling websites and mobile apps. These apps have become much more popular with students and younger people than the traditional high street betting shops, due to their convenience and the image of high-street bookies as being more an “old man’s thing.”
In 2014, it was reported in The Guardian that a Save the Student survey found that 20% of students had gambled in that year. This is not an indication of a major gambling problem, as most students who gamble (myself included) do not bet ridiculous amounts of money every day, instead placing one-off bets. For example, let’s say you and your friends are in a pub watching West Ham Utd vs Southampton. It’s not a big game between two major clubs like Manchester United v Liverpool or the North London Derby. You’ve been a Nottingham Forest fan since you were five, so you couldn’t really care about the outcome of this match. Placing a quick bet on who will win or how many goals will be scored is a good way of getting yourself invested in the match, and can make it more entertaining.
Of course, another major reason that students bet is the perceived financial benefits. Being a student is often tricky financially, and if all you need to do to make an easy £20 is choose the winner from three or four football matches, or whether the roulette ball will fall on red or black, then why not give it a go? In many cases, what starts off as casual betting can quickly get far more serious, especially when people start losing more money and begin to chase their losses. The Save the Students survey shows that that gambling is a fairly popular pastime with students, and like all potentially addictive pastimes, it could escalate and have serious consequences.
For many students who have just started their degree and get their first loan, the sight of so much money in their bank account can be overwhelming, and lead them to think that there is no way they could burn through that much cash. Sadly, that is not always the case, as a quick web search will reveal horror stories of students with gambling addictions, like a University of York student who gambled away 80% of his student loan. Personally, I have known students in the past who racked up serious debts because of their gambling. As Leeds has one of the largest student populations in the country, it is highly likely there are many more students who suffer from problem gambling. The launching of this new clinic is a much-needed step in the right direction to control gambling addiction in Northern England without simply blaming the bookmakers.
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