Figures released just under a week ago showed that young, male, professional sportsmen were more than 3 times more likely to suffer from problem gambling than men of a similar age in the general population. Since the figures were released, the key message of the findings (that of the need for better responsible gambling education) has been drowned out by voices denouncing things like the proliferation of betting shops, and mobile and online gaming for making gambling too accessible and appealing to men at risk. But is it useful to respond with vitriol towards gambling outlets?
Talking about problem gambling – especially when you’re drawing conclusions based on generalisations – is always difficult and fraught with complications. It is generally agreed that gambling addiction is a disease, and thus every individual affected must be handled in a unique and nuanced way, depending on their own circumstances. It’s worth mentioning this before I start talking about the findings of the report in general terms, as some of the conclusions I draw, and indeed my opinion, may not ring true for every problem gambler.
Based on questionnaires posed to young sportsmen – which were then compared to data collected from the general population – the Professional Players Federation published the following results:
- If you are a young, professional sportsman, there’s a 6.1% chance you’ll have a problem with gambling.
- This is three times higher than the national average within the same age group of 1.9%
- You’re more likely to have a problem with gambling if you earn at the lower end of the pay scale
- If a young sportsman receives responsible gambling education, there’s an 89% it’ll prove helpful
- Only 25% of young sportsmen receive any form of responsible gambling education
The Problem with Reporting on the Findings
There’s no doubt that sport has a problem that needs addressing. While 1.9% of young men struggling with an addiction is an awful statistic, the fact that in sport that number becomes more than 1 in 20 is shocking. However, much of the commentary that has occurred over the last few days has blamed the availability of forms of gambling, rather than addressing what seems quite obviously to be a culture both of betting, and of hiding addiction.
In articles like this one from the Evening Times newspaper in Scotland titled “Betting is Too Easy”, writers jump straight from describing the issue, to making judgement statements like “For sportsmen and people in general, it's much easier to access gambling than ever” and “I blame advertising”.
Now, I don’t mean to make a staunch defence of mobile casinos without being realistic about the fact that opportunities to gamble have become more and more prevalent. However, taking online, mobile and 24/7 gambling as a fact, is it not more useful to work towards helping those at risk and in trouble rather than pouring blame over operators who offer a service that 98.1% of people can enjoy without developing a problem or addiction?
Voices of Reason
The more rational voices in the debate come from people like Heather Wardle, who is a Research Director at NatCen Social Research, and asked of the higher rates of gambling problems in sportsmen: “It is interesting to question why this might be. Is it due to a betting culture? Is it something about athletes’ personalities, or perhaps a combination of these two?”
Moreover, there are those looking for solutions, rather than scapegoats, like Chairman of the PPF Brendon Batson, who said of the findings: “There is an urgent need to break down the stigma attached to problem gambling in sport. Sportsmen are a clear ‘at risk’ group and the whole of professional sport has a duty of care to these young men. We all need to work together to expand and improve the good practice that exists on education and treatment for problem gambling.”
The vast majority of regulated online and mobile gambling operators take responsible gambling extremely seriously, and offer many ways to find help and self-exclude. Addressing problem gambling requires understanding, patience and rational conversation – it can only ever be harmful to draw quick conclusions, and attempt to attribute blame before seeking to offer help.