Whether it is picking a horse at the Grand National or backing your local football team to cup glory, gambling can be seen as something to keep the interest going for the occasional punter. But what about those individuals who have a serious gambling addiction? Jonathan McNabb investigates.
According to the GamCare – an online commission to help those addicted to gambling – it is believed that almost 30,000 people in the UK have contacted the organisation for advice in halting the addiction in the past year – a worrying rise of 18%.
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However, it is not traditional high street betting shops that are now solely to blame for this rise as the presence of online gambling applications allows users to gamble money at the touch of a button like never before.
The online gambling industry is worth almost £3 billion in the United Kingdom and this figure is expected to increase as more and more punters are using online betting companies rather than calling into their nearest bookmakers.
Betting agencies like Bet365, Bet Victor and Coral entice new customers by offering free bets or refunding losing wagers in the hope of gaining new members. In the past year, all major betting applications have introduced a ‘Cash Out’ function which gives the user the option of selling their bet for a certain amount.
As one frequent online gambler told me, “I use online betting applications because it’s easy to place bets. You can do it on your phone, laptop and tablet. They have the latest odds in-play and you can cash out a winning bet with a few minutes to go. It saves you the hassle of travelling 10 or 15 minutes down the road to the bookies.”
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Online gambling has evolved so much, that punters can even do the lottery and play bingo – which is extremely common amongst women. According to a survey carried out by the BBC, the rise in women playing bingo has dramatically increased so much so that there are now over 350 operated websites to play the famous game.
According to David McCausland, a bingo hall manager from Portrush, he believes that the online versions of bingo have impacted the number of people coming through their doors.
“Unfortunately, over the past year we have noticed a decline in people wanting to play bingo on our premises. I have spoken with a few of our old regulars and they have basically said that playing a few games in the comfort of their homes is more appealing than driving on a cold, miserable evening to Portrush.
“It is something we are conscious and wary off, but unless there are changes to the way bingo is being played online, the future of bingo halls in the UK will be under threat.”
Why has there been a sudden increase in gambling?
Aside from the rise of betting applications, there are many other reasons as to why online gambling has emerged as one of the biggest industries in the UK. In 2005, the Labour Party lifted a ban on radio and TV advertisements related to casinos, online betting and bookmakers. As such, many day time television shows are sponsored by these types of companies such as FoxyBingo.com.
It is undeniable that punters are attracted to betting offers made during sports events as companies give the latest odds on certain markets to appeal to gamblers at half-time in a football match, or before a big horse race. In 2011, The Guardian revealed that such advertisements had risen 600% since the law was altered.
The high number of sporting events being sponsored by betting companies has also led to more punters placing wagers. It is common that snooker and darts tournaments are sponsored by major betting applications like William Hill, Stan Bet and 888.com. This is coupled by many sports stars wearing the logos of these sites and making reference to them on social media platforms.
The widespread use of ‘in-play’ betting attracts a lot of gamblers to place wagers on sporting events as they happen – for example, punters can place a bet on who will score the next goal during a football match as the odds fluctuate during play.
The introduction of fix-odds betting terminals, known as FoBT’s, in betting stores across the United Kingdom has come in for criticism due to the extreme nature of money that can be spent by a punter at any given time. These terminals feature casino games such as blackjack and roulette which allows users to bet £100 every 20 seconds.
This phenomenon is known as the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ as punters chase a winner but with odds stacked against them. In recent times, there have been many pleas to remove FoBT’s from high street bookmakers, as they have led to many users needing financial help and payday loans to halt their addiction.
According to Laura Christie, a former employee of a high street bookmaker, she believes that there should be restrictions on how much a certain individual can bet on a day-to-day basis.
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Former Labour leader Ed Miliband vowed to give local councils the opportunity to reduce the number of FoBTs in bookmakers as he explained their rise was “spreading like an epidemic.”
However, Labour’s demands were rebuffed when coalition MPs rejected the motion for tighter control on gaming machines. Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the debate on the issue and revealed there are “problems in the betting and gambling industry.”
Match Fixing: Illegal Gambling within sport is on the rise
You can be forgiven about thinking of something else in the tennis world right now after Maria Sharapova’s shocking self-confession to taking performance enhancing drugs, or the debate surrounding how much female players should be paid. However, only a few weeks previously, the sport was in disrepute over allegations of match fixing.
According to a 10 year investigation carried out by the BBC and BuzzFeed News, it was revealed that 16 former top 50 ranked players had caught the attention of the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) on numerous occasions for irregular betting patterns.
The TIU revealed that they have received 48 alerts of suspicious and unusual betting activity on matches for the first quarter of 2016 – an increase of 17 from the same period last year.
Consequently, Grand Slam champions such as Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams admitted to have been offered bribes, but failed to let the authorities know at the time. In addition, two umpires have been fully banned from the sport, with another four under suspicion for playing their part in the throwing of matches.
In worrying developments, the report found that betting syndicates across Europe won hundreds of thousands of pounds over three matches played at Wimbledon. There was also suspicions raised following a match in 2007 between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello, but both players were consequently cleared of any wrong doing.
During prolonged investigations into the match between Davydenko and Arguello, it was found that latter had exchanged almost 80 texts with the suspected head of a high profile Italian syndicate with a high proportion of bets coming from Moscow.
However, despite both players being found not guilty, the sport introduced the TIU to crack down on players throwing matches for vast sums of money. In 2011, tennis player Daniel Koellerer made headlines for being the first male tennis player to be banned for life in light of match fixing.
Two-time Grand Slam champion and world number two Andy Murray when asked by The Guardian if he would be surprised if fellow players fixed matches, he replied ‘no, not really.’
“I do think it’s important that from a younger age, players are better educated and made more aware of what they should do in those situations and how decisions like that can affect your career and affect your whole sport. Across all sports I don’t think that’s done particularly well.”
With the rumoured crisis of match fixing reaching a global audience, local tennis coach Paul Logan voiced his opinion about how these revelations have affected the sport at an amateur level.
“You are now seeing players throw matches for a six figure sum and this allows them to pay for travel expenses at different tournaments for a whole season,” he said.
“From my point of view, match fixing has been going on for quite a while but has only been highlighted since top 10 ranked woman players are getting caught.
“With social media reporting this news at a high level, children are seeing that tennis players have been cheating and will try to do the same with line calls and foot faults, so it is slowly creeping into the game.”
Tennis not the only sport involved
Unfortunately, tennis is not the only sport that has seen allegations of match fixing. In 2008, a football match between Accrington Stanley and Bury received irregular patterns that resulted in five players being banned by the Football Association.
In recent weeks, Manchester City defender Martin Demichelis made headlines after being charged with betting on matches throughout Europe. In 2014, the FA made a new rule that no players in England were allowed to bet on any football activity – meaning the Argentinean was fined. Luckily for the player and club, the allegations against the 35 year-old did not concern match fixing, but rather placing wagers on football activity that was not permitted under new FA protocols.
The 2016 World Championship Snooker tournament starts this month and more scrutiny will be on matches like never before in light of recent match fixing scandals within the sport. In 2013, Stephen Lee was banned from playing snooker for 12 years after being found guilty for fixing the outcome of seven matches between 2007 and 2008.
In an interview with the BBC, World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn insisted he has ‘no sympathy’ for Lee and would have liked to have seen his ban being extended because snooker’s ‘integrity is paramount.’
“The 12-year ban fitted the crime – I would have gone for a life ban, you have to send a message to the broadcasters and sponsors. Integrity is paramount.
“There is no sympathy when you are dealing with the future of the sport. It’s a sad situation for the individual, no-one wants to see anyone suffer, but he brought about it himself, therefore he has to pay the price.”
Match fixing has been pretty much a common theme in snooker since the game became professional. In 2011, BBC commentator Willy Thorne explained that “match fixing has always been a part of snooker and I don’t know how you can stamp it out.”
Match fixing in Northern Ireland
Locally, Carrick Rangers defender Gareth McKeown was banned until the end of the 2015/16 Danske Bank Premiership campaign after being caught sharing information on local reserve team fixtures.
The Irish Football Association noted that while McKeown did not play in the matches, he shared information with family members that were in breach of betting rules when he was at his former club Glenavon.
According to Irish League striker Darren Henderson, players have to be extremely careful about how they gamble and can have no excuses if they are caught.
“The IFA have a strict opinion on gambling and they have sent out letters to all clubs in the league outlining that players aren’t allowed to bet on any games within the Irish League. They have a strict policy and any players caught will be dealt with severely.
“I don’t have any sympathy for Gareth as he should know the rules. However, betting companies like Bet365 shouldn’t give odds on reserve team football as it might entice a few players who know a certain team will win.”
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