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Ellen Jones explores the hidden world of student gambling.

Since writing my pervious article on students’ entrapment by government loans and interest rates, I have read more and more about another rouse to which students keep falling victim: gambling.

Last week, the BBC reported claims that independent research shows that gambling amongst students is on the rise, with some racking up £10,000 worth of debt from their betting habits. Despite using our loans to fund gambling habits actually being a breach of our agreement with the Student Loans Company, research conducted in August by the agency YouthSight has revealed that four out of five students gambled in the four weeks prior to being questioned. Furthermore, one in eight undergraduates surveyed admitted that they had missed lectures or seminars due to their gambling habits.

So, when students are already strapped for cash, what is it that’s influencing such a disproportionate number of us to gamble our money away? Is it the thrill, or is it because as indebted students, a growing number of us are desperate for quick cash?

One clear motivation has to be betting companies’ hard-line targeting of the student community. As recently revealed on the Victoria Derbyshire show, one of the UK’s biggest casino brands, Grosvenor Casinos, runs a special student-only poker league and offers student discounts at their casino branches. However, whilst this has attracted considerable criticism from student-interest groups such as the NUS, which has claimed gambling companies need ‘clamping down on’, the truth remains that these kind of marketing techniques are legal, and commonplace in multiple other, potentially equally as damaging, industries.

‘One of the UK’s biggest casino brands, Grosvenor Casinos, runs a special student-only poker league and offers student discounts at their casino branches.’

Gambling, in its purest form, surely isn’t a problem. We all tried the novelty lottery ticket on our 16th birthday, and, let’s face it, none of us are strangers to a good game of odds on. In a world where our freedom of speech and movement appears to be increasingly in jeopardy, who’s to say that it’s a problem when someone gets their kicks from gambling, rather than the more socially acceptable expenditures like shopping, eating out, or going to the pub?

For many Bristol students who I spoke to, gambling was exactly that: a fun, social and occasional activity. Giles Moss, second year Maths student at Bristol claimed he sees no problem with the concept of gambling: ‘I don’t think there’s an issue with gambling. It’s fun time to time after a night out and for most people it’s nothing more than that’.

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Engineering student, Tom, agreed. ‘I have the occasional bet for the thrill of winning. I think for a lot of people it’s not about the money. I also think it’s not agencies’ responsibility to protect student gamblers…if a student doesn’t have enough money, they should stop themselves’.

Yet I can’t help but feel gambling is both a cause and an effect, exacerbating the existing and prevailing issues within the student community. Student gambling seems to be the current ‘hot topic’, but we should be using this to recognise and discuss the underlying problems which gambling highlights. A lack of money, an abundance of spare time, and the prevalence of ‘banterous’ peer pressure are all common student experiences which act as direct incentives to take up betting. Similarly, student loneliness, a lack of support, and the absence of loved ones’ ‘watchful eye’ appear to prevent those who get stuck in the gambling rut from escaping with ease.

‘gambling is both a cause and an effect, exacerbating the existing and prevailing issues within the student community.’

Jack, a Theology and Philosophy student, shared his experiences of watching friends get into bad gambling habits. ‘He won £2000 one day, and lost £4000 the next. The confidence boost he got from winning meant that he got more and more hooked. He’s now so far into his overdraft that he had to ban himself from playing anymore. It’s a risky game and doing it for anything more than a bit of fun can lead to serious difficulties’.

This is something that universities are becoming increasingly aware of, as gambling charity Gamcare has encouraged. ‘It’s time to open up a conversation about gambling in universities’, Trevor David, a training and development consultant at Gamcare told The Guardian. ‘University staff need to know how to spot a problem and what support to provide’.

Personally, I can’t help but remain sceptical about university staff spotting issues and providing the necessary help to prevent student gambling from becoming an issue. With so many students on campus to monitor, so few contact hours a week (…can you tell I’m a disgruntled Arts student…?) and university support still seemingly very much working on a don’t-ask-don’t-get basis, how are our lecturers supposed to spot the early signs of a gambling addiction?

Gambling represents a whole host of student problems which we need to help with, and in order to do so, discuss more. I commend universities, and the national news, for talking openly about the issue of student gambling, and how we can remove the stigmas attached to ‘going too far’ and asking for help. For now, all we can do is keep hedging our bets by remaining hopeful of sensible betting and improved support for those in need.


Are you a student gambler? Comment, or contact Epigram via Facebook or Twitter.

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