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‘I had to walk away before I lost everything’: We spoke to the Sheffield students addicted to gambling

It’s a serious issue nobody is paying attention to

If there's one thing students love, it's finding crafty ways to earn more money. Some become brand ambassadors for companies, force feeding their mates Red Bull, or serving giddy First Years sambuca at Poptarts, but, for some, betting seems the easier option to earn a bit of extra money whilst at uni.

We all know at least one person in our friendship group who is a member of a betting website and, speaking from experience, it tends to be people betting on football matches, and they're lured in by free bets or just by adding a bit of excitement to the football game they're already going to be watching.

After all, it's often only the success stories we hear, like people being able to pay off their student loan by gambling and making as much as £400,000 just by placing bets.

We spoke to three Sheffield students about their experience with gambling culture at Uni and how it's impacted their lives.

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'I do it because all my uni friends do it'

Charlie got into betting because all of his uni friends were gambling on football matches. "My dad likes football, so he'd place the odd bet on football, but it wasn't really until coming to University in Sheffield that I really got into betting. It just made the 3pm Saturday games a bit more interesting, as they're not shown on TV, and with everyone I hang out with doing it, I didn't really see the harm."

Charlie lived in Holland as a teenager, and he was amazed how open and accepted gambling was in the UK. "When I came to University back in England, gambling culture is worlds apart from what it's like back at home. In Holland, there's very few websites which offer gambling, and you have to make the trip to a special off license to place a bet. There also aren't adverts on the TV to advertise betting sites, but here, every time you turn on Sky Sports, a betting site is offering you odds and free bets. In the UK you can literally place a bet within seconds on your phone and every corner shop sells lotteries and scratch cards."

However, Charlie knows all to well the risks which gambling can bring. "I've not actually won a bet for a long time, and last year I placed a £35 bet with 6/1 odds on the transfer market. As a student, £35 is a lot of money, but I was so certain it would come in that I actually booked a holiday with my potential winnings, only for the situation to change at the last minute. I was left not only £35 out of pocket, but having to loan money from family to pay for the holiday."

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'I've had friends have to enforce strict limits on themselves so they don't spend all their budget'

Dan is a big football fan and watches most matches with his group of friends. "All of my friends watch football, and so we spend all weekend, every weekend, watching matches. It's ridiculously easy to place a bet on your phone, and it's also very easy to spend more money than you intended. I have a budget of £40 a week, and there have been a few times when I've spent over half of that just on a Saturday afternoon watching the football."

Dan has also witnessed first hand the harm it's done as well. "Quite a few of my Uni friends were spending way too much time and money betting and it really worried them how addicted they'd become. I had no idea it could be such a powerful addiction. Whilst you can put deposit limits on your account to stop you betting more than you should, I definitely think students need to be made more aware of the dangers and how addictive it can be".

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Betfred in Broomhill, where most students walk past every day

'Betting removed all the fun from sport from me'

The issues can be far reaching. Speaking to James, a Sheffield Hallam student, he found himself caught up in betting because most of his friends at uni did it. "I've always been a big sports fan, and spend most of my time watching football matches and following sport, as do my friends" he tells me. "I'd never really bothered that much with gambling, but with all my friends doing it and telling me how much money they'd won, I thought I'd give it a go. Once I'd won a couple of times, I thought I was really good at it."

However, James soon found himself with a problem. "I was no longer betting on matches I was actually going to watch. I was making bigger bets than I was at the beginning, but more crucially, I was also losing some of them. £11 doesn't sound like much, but to a student that's a quarter of my weekly budget." It soon became a burden, with James not being able to watch football in the same way. "There was too much riding on if they won or not. It wasn't about watching it for enjoyment; there was more at stake if my team lost. I decided it was time to walk away at the end of last term, and my quality of life is much better for it."

The Solution

Dan told me "I'd say you can’t really put any more strict rules on it, as there’s already options for betting and deposit limits and so on, but they should perhaps make people more aware of the dangers of betting and Universities should provide more help for people if they do have a problem."

It's hard to know what to do to help students who have a gambling problem. As with most addictions, admitting you have a problem is the first step, but it's a difficult thing to escape from it when all your friends are doing it when every time you turn on the TV, there are adverts telling you about what great odds there are.