How prepared is Europe for an increase in gambling and addiction?

An increasing number of Europeans suffer from gambling addiction, a problem that is expected to grow across the continent as profits from the sector are expected to increase in the coming years.

For Chris, his 18th birthday was more than a major milestone marking the transition from childhood to adulthood. It was the day he had been waiting for for years, the day when he would finally be considered old enough to gamble legally in his home country of the UK.

I always knew gambling would be something I would do as soon as I turned 18, Chris told Euronews. That was the thing I was always most excited about because I grew up in such a football environment.

Chris knew he wanted to bet on football matches. When his birthday came around, within a few days he was signed up to every gambling site out there, taking advantage of all the offers available for newbies.

To begin with, my gambling was very responsible and controlled. It was just small amounts of money, probably on Saturday afternoon when the football was on. Then pretty quickly, he started to slowly lose control, Chris said.

He started betting a lot more money, using credit cards to support his gambling, on all kinds of sports, including horse racing, which he said never interested him in the first place.

I was basically gambling every second of every day, Chris said. I very quickly went from my very responsible and controlled gambling to being absolutely ruthless. It took over my entire life very quickly.

The situation got so bad that within a few hours of receiving his paycheck, Chris would put everything on the bets. He has become increasingly isolated from his family and friends and has developed suicidal thoughts.

A growing problem

Chris’s case is not isolated to the UK or Europe, where gambling addiction is a growing problem.

In the UK, an estimated 53% of people over the age of 16 placed a bet last year, according to the Gambling commission. About 430,000 people in the country are considered addicted to gambling and 1.85 million are at risk of becoming addicted.

The most recent population survey from Germany states that approximately 1.3 million individuals have a gambling disorder and another 3.25 million display some sort of risky gambling patterns. Other countries, such as Sweden, have reported an increase in the number of female gambling addicts.

An increasing number of Europeans suffer from gambling addiction. According to EGBA data, between 0.3% and 6.4% of adults in Europe suffer from the condition leading to compulsive gambling, although collecting accurate data is made difficult by differing national survey methods and tools.

It is difficult to obtain concrete figures on the number of Europeans who can be considered addicted to gambling. Gambling addiction is an understudied area and comparative studies across different European countries are lacking, making it more difficult to assess the true extent of the problem.

Experts expect the problem to get worse as the betting industry continues to thrive over the next few years.

The European sports betting industry is currently worth an estimated $44.5 million ($41.5 million). Forecasters had expected its value to reach $89.9 million (83.9 million) by 2030, as reported by Data Bridge Market Research. This growth should be driven not by the modest sports betting shops scattered across the continent, which are just the tip of the betting industry iceberg, but by online gambling.

This is a legal gray area across the EU. There is no specific EU framework for the gambling sector, leaving individual Member States free to decide on their own regulation of online gambling provided they respect the fundamental freedoms established by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Malta, which moved first to establish its own online gambling establishment, is now one of the world leaders in the sector, with the industry now playing a key role in the country’s economy and the lives of its people . A 2017 report revealed that 56% of Malta’s population – or around half a million people – over the age of 18 spent money in some form on gambling in 2015.

Internet gambling will certainly continue to gain popularity in the coming years, Dr. Tobias Hayer of the University of Bremen, Germany.

This means a massive increase in gambling incentives and also in addiction risks. Due to the characteristics of online gambling events, such as permanent availability 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, lack of social control, rapid attendance of events and cashless payment transactions, these offers range from hand in hand with a high risk potential, he said.

An important discussion that we need to have in this context is: who is responsible for responsible gambling? What are the tasks of the suppliers, what are the state authorities to do and what can be left to market forces?, said Dr. Steffen Otterbach and Andrea Whr of the Gambling Research Center, University of Hohenheim, Germany euronews.

How to protect people from gambling addiction?

In Chris’s case, his parents eventually realized that he had run up a lot of debt and he has since started recovering from his gambling addiction.

Chris, now 25 and 5 months gambling free, has become an advocate for gambling addiction awareness, sharing his experience on TikTok and through its NoBet website.

His recovery was not easy.

I did my best, but when I turned on the TV, there was a TV commercial [for gambling]. I walked down the street, there is gambling on billboards. I watched YouTube videos and 9 times out of 10 there would be a casino commercial. Same on social media, it’s just everywhere. I felt very trapped, she said.

The aggressive campaign to promote sports betting online and on the streets of our cities does real damage, Chris said. I think the way companies advertise is disgusting and completely wrong, he told Euronews. In these ads, there’s a small part at the end that would say it takes time to think, but it’s not enough. Gambling is so extremely addictive and so destructive.

In the UK, between 250 and 650 suicides a year are estimated to be related to gambling, according to 2021 data.

Chris thinks the gambling industry should be forced to warn customers of the dangers of gambling addiction while the tobacco industry warns of the lung cancer risk posed by smoking.

Belgium went even further, announcing in March that it would ban gambling ads on social media, TV and sports stadiums.

Hayer thinks it is up to national governments to impose similar bans, because gambling companies would never do it of their own accord. Effective player protection costs money from the vendor’s perspective, and almost no private company pursuing the revenue-maximizing business model is willing to accept such revenue losses, she said.

But the regulation of the gambling industry is still an ongoing process in many countries, which are approaching the issue differently in the absence of a common framework.

We see major efforts to address gambling addiction in individual European countries, but there is still a long way to go, said Otterbach and Whr. What would be useful, according to the two, would be to have more comparative studies on how the problem is tackled across Europe.

A key starting point for minimizing these costs are structurally implemented prevention measures such as significant restrictions in advertising, including social media marketing, limitations on gambling opportunities, including mandatory bet or loss limits, and a supervisory authority working, said Hayer.

At the same time, there is a need for better funding of the aid system, preventive activities and independent research. To summarize: individual companies must not be able to profit from gambling at the expense of society.

Should the EU intervene?

Whether the EU should have a role in regulating the gambling industry for all member countries is something experts aren’t sure about.

This is a very good question, as it concerns the field of tension between national and European legislation, said Otterbach and Whr. For a legal layman, it might seem preferable to have a unified regulation for all EU countries. However, it is doubtful that one size fits all: after all, common regulation challenges the way regulatory affairs are organized in individual countries.

An EU-wide legal framework would certainly be welcome in essence, but that’s not a very realistic scenario, said Hayer.

Different countries have the right to regulate their national gambling market according to their own interests and concerns. And Malta behaves completely differently from Germany or Norway, for example, he continued.

My suggestion would be to set up some kind of pan-European ombudsman institution for gambling matters. The guiding principle of this institution will always be to strengthen the protection of young people and gamblers, as well as to ward off the dangers of gambling addiction.

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