Gambling: A more socially acceptable addiction?

Calum Atkinson

Scratch cards and lottery tickets on display at a lottery Kiosk in Dublin.

It seems as each day passes sport becomes ever more inextricably linked to the betting industry. This has led to people watching sport being more focused on what it means for the balance of their betting account rather than enjoying the drama unfolding on the pitch.

The dividing line has disappeared between enjoying watching a sporting event and gambling on the outcome of it. Through advertising, betting companies have succeeded in normalising gambling and convincing many people that having a bet is part and parcel of watching sport.

Gambling is as old as the hills but the emergence of online gambling has changed everything. While a majority of people can gamble with no major problems, roughly 7% of gamblers in Ireland are at risk of developing a gambling problem.

According to the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, gambling addiction affects young people at 2-3 times the rate of adults.

Sports betting is a multi-billion-euro industry and these companies’ advertising strategies are creative, targeted and ultimately very effective. Let’s take the example of watching a game in the English Premier League.

“And it’s live” roars Martin Tyler. This line signals that the game we’ve waited all week for is about to start. But Tyler’s trademark line is also the cue for an advertisement from a betting company. This ad is forced upon us and plants a seed in our brain.

Then the game starts and advertisements for betting companies are displayed on the boards around the pitch. Even a person who rarely bets like me can be drawn in by these ads so it’s hard to imagine how they impact on a compulsive gambler.

The Guardian reported that ITV broadcast around 90 minutes of gambling advertisements throughout the entire 2018 World Cup which amounted to 17% of all total ad breaks.

A whistle to whistle ban on advertising is set to be implemented in July 2019 after political pressure for action. This is just television advertising though and we must also consider the targeted advertising facilitated by social networks that are also extremely effective.

60% of football teams in the top two divisions in England have a betting company as their shirt sponsor. Closer to home, the FAI recently agreed to a two-year-deal with Kenyan-based betting company SportPesa.

I believe major leagues, teams, and television companies have been extremely irresponsible in the relationships they’ve built with betting companies. They fail to consider the lives gambling has destroyed. Or maybe they do consider it and decide that the money being offered is more important.

Gambling addiction is less spoken about than other types of addiction. Unlike alcohol and drug addiction, there are few clear signs to others.

Gambling addicts suffer silently and can run up massive losses in online accounts that they desperately try to win back, making the problem worse and destroying relationships in the process.

It’s depressing to consider how a sport that can often bring such joy to people’s lives has been hijacked by betting companies that ultimately bring misery.

By Calum Atkinson

Image Credit: Clara Kelly