Rich one week, poor the next. Replying to invitations with: ‘I’ll know later if I can afford it, I’m waiting on a bet’. Having an altogether strange understanding of the Latvian football league. These are all traits of the student gambler, a persona becoming more and more common among students. With a massive 127,000 young people in the UK having a gambling problem, why is it that this niche in student culture has emerged?
The answer comes in the two sides of gambling. The first type - the innocent, glamourous, ‘Ladbrokes Life!’ side - falls perfectly into the student life. Long odds accumulators and Goals Galore bets make gambling a cheap form of recreation
; at worst a fiver or less spent on a few hours entertainment with friends - no worse than buying a cinema ticket - and at best a big cash pay-out.
The problem, however, starts when it stops being about fun and starts becoming about making money; when a last minute goal against you doesn’t mean it was ‘fun while it lasted’, it means financial disaster.
Ok, the latter scenario is a long shot, but when it comes to casual betting, winning isn’t everything. It’s about testing your knowledge as you try and pick the winners from the list of fixtures, looking at your friend and saying ‘I think this one could come off’ and feeling the adrenaline as the matches go on and the goals go in. To actually win would just be a bonus. As the Ladbrokes ads say: ‘when the fun stops, stop!’
The problem, however, starts when it stops being about fun and starts becoming about making money; when a last minute goal against you doesn’t mean it was ‘fun while it lasted’, it means financial disaster. Because this is the other side of it: when gambling begins to dictate a person’s finances; when speculative accumulators are swapped for shorter odds and bets the gambler insists will win, which they believe ‘cannot lose.’ When this happens and the stakes are raised, loses are no longer a case of fluttering away a bit of disposable cash which would otherwise have been spent on an extra pint or a bag of chips, but instead waving goodbye to money that could cover a night out, a week’s grocery shopping, or even a month’s rent.
These are extreme cases, but as is the way with anything linked with addiction, the sad reality is that the innocent side can often lead to the darker one. It’s not uncommon for many students to find themselves somewhere in between; beyond two pound bets, and although never going as far as putting a month’s rent on the line, allowing their casual finances and ability to go out and socialise to depend on whether or not a bet comes up.
So why does this happen, and how big a problem is it? Well, perhaps it’s not an issue of gambling, but an issue of student life in general. Most gamblers insist the issue isn’t betting, but self-control, and let’s face it, students are no expects at that! After all, if we call students who overindulge in gambling, gambling-addicts, should we also call those who knowingly drink more than is good for them alcoholics?
For the most part, gambling is a habit picked up when they can get away with it; after all, college is a learning curve with money in general. Student loans and part time jobs, alongside new found everyday expenses and bills, mean that money comes and goes quicker than many can keep track of. Gambling can add or subtract, enhance or diminish these finances along the way, but in most cases, it is not a severe problem. For students the mantra of please gamble responsibly is not a lesson in itself, but rather a part of the wider challenge of learning how to live responsibly.