We all enjoy a little flutter every now and then. From the lure of penny slot machines on a seaside pier to the annual office sweepstakes, the temptation to gamble follows us throughout our lives. We’re a nation of armchair gamblers, too. Despite changing shopping habits, The National Lottery has just announced another bumper year with 1.8million new online registrations recorded at the end of 2022.
Occasional betting that takes place outside of a competitive setting isn’t usually a cause for concern. It’s when gambling becomes a compulsive act, rather than a bit of harmless fun, that the cards are marked. And major sporting events could have a lot to answer for.
Studies show televised sporting events, like major league football, have a toxic influence on gambling habits. People who gamble on sports are also more likely to suffer serious harm. But why is that? Are major sporting events fuelling a rise in gambling addiction or are people simply gambling more because of ongoing financial uncertainty? It can help to understand why people become addicted to gambling in the first place.
According to psychiatrists, Gambling Disorder (GD) is a condition where someone displays “persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behaviour leading to clinically significant distress or impairment”. It often goes hand-in-hand with mental health problems, such as low mood and anxiety, as well as alcohol use disorders. With heavy financial consequences, gambling addiction can leave a trail of destruction in its wake, from job loss and unpaid debts to engagement in crime to fund the habit (1).
Problem gamblers often wrongly believe that they can control the outcome of a chance-based bet, leading psychiatrists to speculate over pre-existing cognitive disorders. Studies have also found a link between stressful life experiences and gambling addiction. People who have trouble regulating emotions or controlling stress are more likely to develop a gambling disorder (1).
Sport in itself, whether participating or spectating, is exhilarating, competitive and highly addictive. So it doesn’t take much for someone who is already obsessed by the outcome to extend their thrill into having a flutter. Chasing the buzz of a big win, athletes are four times more likely to develop a gambling problem in comparison to the general population. Major sporting events are also massively social occasions, often watched with friends in environments where drugs and alcohol may also influence gambling behaviour.
Betting on sports is one of the most popular forms of gambling. It’s been around for centuries, and its popularity never wanes due to the ease of placing a bet, the sheer entertainment value of watching live sports and the promise of winning large sums of money.
For people who aren’t die-hard fans, major sporting events, such as the Grand National or FIFA World Cup, represent a chance to gamble that might otherwise have escaped them.
During the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, 24% of potential UK gamblers described themselves as ‘somewhat likely’ or ‘very likely’ to open a new betting account to satisfy their appetite to bet and a further 28% wouldn’t rule it out.
On the flip side, those who follow sports year-round may be tempted to ramp up their participation, including their gambling spend, during major sporting events. Eight Premier League clubs have sponsorship deals with betting companies. With logos emblazoned across footballers’ chests this is an ever-present trigger for a sports’ fan with a gambling problem.
Four years ago the Supreme Court overturned the ban on sports betting, which has forced a steady increase in gambling on major sporting events in the US. The rise of online sportsbooks has led to a major spike in people betting on tournaments like March Madness the NFL’s Super Bowl. Every sport, from football to baseball has a coveted contest and the increase in ad spend surrounding them is directly correlated with an increase in gambling.
The American Gaming Association states that almost $7 billion dollars was bet on the Super Bowl in 2020 with over 100 million people watching. It’s estimated last year’s FIFA World Cup racked up a similar amount of global gambling revenue. The UEFA Champions League is even more lucrative recording bets of over $13 billion.
Boxing has had somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, with Gypsy King, Tyson Fury, becoming a household name for Brits who weren’t previously fans. Some of the biggest fights across the globe have attracted unprecedented bets, and losses, with reports of $1 million wagers. And boxers themselves have been among the biggest losers. Bermondsey’s ‘Big Cheese’, welterweight champion Ted Cheeseman, admitted losing close to £1 million due to his gambling habit.
In America, you’ll find people hedging their bets on the Kentucky Derby. But, in Britain it’s always been about the thrill of the Grand National. The world’s most challenging horse race attracts viewers of 500-600 million every year with everyone from the office administrator to your Nan placing their bets. Betting on the horses is a tradition that is more likely to attract syndicates and sweepstake style betting, where people who usually wouldn’t gamble get taken along for the ride.
Cricket and Rugby
An audience of 1.6 billion tune in to watch the Cricket World Cup each year, with one UK betting platform reporting £71 million pounds worth of bets. While the Rugby World Cup isn’t as big in the US, it attracts a huge crowd of followers with over 850 million viewers worldwide. As rugby is played all year round there are endless opportunities for gambling to become problematic.
Advertising and sponsorships remain one of the biggest ways major sporting events fuel gambling addiction. While watching a cricket or rugby match on TV, the average person is exposed to over 300 impressions of gambling ads and betting company logos. Televised sporting events also increase live betting. This is a dangerous method of gambling as there is a shorter period between risk and reward, as well as the ability to place frequent and increasing bets based on how the game is going.
Lack of legislation and widespread self-regulation of the gambling industry leave people more exposed to developing harmful habits and less likely to get the help they need.
If you find that your gambling gets worse during major sporting events and is negatively impacting your life, it’s time to get help. We offer a range of residential rehab programmes for all types of addiction at our purpose-built wellness retreat in Cheshire. Our holistic therapists will help you to identify the reasons for your compulsive behaviour and overcome your triggers.
At times when your gambling addiction is at its height you may also increase your reliance on alcohol or drugs. We can help you first of all with a clinical detox from the comfort of your own ensuite room and get you in the best of shape before tackling your other challenges. We offer both one-to-one and group therapy sessions in a relaxing and non-judgemental environment. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapy that can be particularly helpful in reframing your thinking around gambling.
Our unique three-stage approach is tailored to your individual needs. You can choose from a wide and varied programme of evidence-based therapies and somatic healing techniques to overcome negative thought patterns. We also offer full support to family and friends who can play a crucial role in helping you to grow beyond your gambling addiction.
1. Thurm, A., Satel, J., Montag, C. et al. The Relationship Between Gambling Disorder, Stressful Life Events, Gambling-Related Cognitive Distortions, Difficulty in Emotion Regulation, and Self-Control. J Gambl Stud (2022).
Youssef’s understanding of addiction come from time spent working in the recovery mentor role and his own personal experience. Alongside work, he is completing a degree in psychology at the University of Manchester.
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