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The Beautiful Gam(bl)e

Hot on the heels of Brentford striker Ivan Toney’s eight month ban from professional football for betting offences, The Athletic this week brought us a special report on “the extent of gambling’s grip on football dressing rooms.”

In the article, Wigan Athletic centre back Steven Caulker suggested that “every club has boys playing poker in the back of a bus or plane to an away game, betting £100 or £200,” in an attempt to demonstrate how widespread gambling has become among professional footballers.

Football pros gamble often in both land-based and online casinos, Caulker said, while the article also shed light on professional footballers’ “obsession” with horse racing, open betting on football matches, and their use of gambling as a form of escape from the pressures of the job.

While a blanket ban on football betting has been in place for professional players since 2014, they are still allowed to place bets on any other sports and visit casinos.

Throughout the piece, Caulker tells of his own battle with gambling addiction, starting out visiting high street bookmakers as a teenager while at Spurs’ academy.

At the age of just 19, he went to the Sporting Chance Clinic to seek rehabilitation for his addiction, but left after a week.

“The naivety of me thought I could be cured — that is not the case,” he said. 

“When I was around 22, at QPR, I lost £250,000 in one night. The casinos told Les Ferdinand (the club’s director of football) I was gambling way out of my depth.”

The behaviour was not “just a bad habit,” he insisted, “it was life threatening.”

Caulker’s former teammate Nedum Onuoha went on to suggest that older footballers must take part of the blame for passing on harmful gambling habits to their younger colleagues, saying “they are supposed to be role models.”

Gambling can quickly become part of a club’s culture, he added, putting younger players at serious risk of harm.

And the piece does not just focus on top-flight players. Those as far down as English football’s sixth tier tell all to The Athletic about the culture of gambling surrounding the sport.

As people continue to weigh in on Toney’s betting behaviour, this article provides an important reminder that professional footballers are no less susceptible to gambling harm than anyone else.

In fact, with a culture of gambling surrounding the sport at all times, they could be at more risk than most.

A straight Schuetz-er

Gambling industry veteran Richard Schuetz penned a piece in Sports Handle this week, offering his two cents on a recent ‘hit piece’ on the sector in the New York Times.

In fact for Schuetz, the Times’ ‘Risky Wager’ serious “was no hit piece” at all, but rather an accurate reflection of the genuine anxieties which surround the industry.

Schuetz’s article opens with a heartfelt tribute to Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered on the island in 2017 after a career spent fearlessly exposing abuses of power and corruption.

Schuetz goes on to pay tribute to the variety of “brave and important” reporters and journalists working tirelessly to bring corruption and dishonesty – not least within the gambling industry – to light.

From the outing of Steve Wynn’s sexual misconduct, to the corruption taking place within regulatory bodies in various places all over the world, Schuetz proclaims that “a free press is one of the most important assets that the gaming industry has. 

“It allows the public to know and understand important details about the industry. It should be respected. Moreover, gaming is a regulated industry, and if one studies regulated industries, one will find that an engaged press is a tool to guard against regulatory capture.”

That’s why, he suggested, the New York Times’ Risky Wager series – which addressed the “newly developing betting and gaming scene in the US” – was not “indicative of a biased press putting out a hit piece on a victimised gaming industry,” as many tried to claim at the time.

Rather, “most complaints about the articles come from people who would benefit from the status quo,” and while the articles may not have been perfect, the points addressed in them continue to be of high importance to the industry, regulators, the press and the public alike.

The reality is that “many people are uncomfortable with gaming” and “generally dislike the constant barrage of advertising in new betting markets, much of it being broadcast in the presence of children,” Schuetz argues.

He says that rather than play the victim in the face of critical press coverage, it’s time for the industry to “start working to solve … [the] challenges that stand before us all.”

After all, people are right to be concerned about an industry which “moves at lightning speed,” especially in the burgeoning US market.

A better way to assuage those concerns is likely to come from working with the press, not against it.

Regulation required for Africa

Another gambling report from The Guardian this week shed a light on the “regulatory void” of lucrative African markets being “exploited” by gambling firms.

Sub-Saharan Africa, the piece argues, is “fertile ground for western companies seeking an army of new punters,” but also brings with it the potential for devastating consequences.

One such example is a mother in Malawi whose 16-year old son took his own life after being chased for outstanding debts resulting from a daily gambling habit.

Researchers from the Malawi Epidemiology and Intervention Research Unit conluded, along with the boy’s mother, that “if it weren’t for betting, he would still be alive.”

This tragic story is one result of the rapid growth of gambling seen in Malawi since 2015, the piece argues, in a situation mirrored across much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Companies there are using “exploitative practicies,” according to University of Zimbabwe lecturer Manase Chiweshe, as governments across the region are struggling to keep up with the proliferation of online gambling.

Indeed, according to a study released earlier this year by the universities of Ghana, Bath and Glasgow, gambling firms are able to take advantage of “a regulatory void surrounding online forms of gambling and the promotion of gambling products” in Africa.

Online gambling revenue across the continent is expected to almost double between 2020 and 2023, to $1.62bn, as gambling advertising has become “pervasive across all forms of media.”

Meanwhile, as much as 40% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives below the poverty line, and unemployment among young people is rife.

Gambling is therefore seen as a source of income for many looking to escape the cycle of poverty, while gambling harms and health problems go largely ignored.

To remedy the situation, tougher regulations are required across the continent as a matter of urgency.

Or better still, operators could do everything in their power to ensure they act responsibly right across the globe.

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