In February the Independent released the results of a National Union of Students (NUS) survey of over 1600 students. The results indicate that tens of thousands of students across the country are gambling their student loans to financially support themselves. This is occurring at an increasing rate as students express their frustration that governmental financial support for students is failing to rise with the rate of living costs.
The results show that 59% of students have gambled over the past 12 months, nearly half of whom did so purely for financial reasons rather than for enjoyment or socialising. Of the students who have engaged in gambling, 8% have used their student loans.
One Newcastle postgraduate student, who wishes to stay anonymous, previously gambled two or three times a week mainly for enjoyment but said that “the financial incentive is an obvious selling point”. Asked about their reasons for stopping gambling, they said: “I realised watching others it's a mugs game, I went through a period of success with it and still realised every great win was coupled with some losses. [I would] never class what I was as an issue but having seen problems recognised the line between me and [becoming a] problem gambler was thin and [I] needed to severely cut down.”
"Students have said the only way that they can pay rent is to gamble. That is really worrying."
Eva Crossan Jory, NUS Vice-President for Welfare
Eva Crossan Jory, NUS vice-president for welfare, explained how “more students are relying on gambling as a means of finance rather than just doing it for fun. I think previously people were not doing it as much as a means of survival…Students have said the only way that they can pay rent is to gamble. That is really worrying.”
One Newcastle postgraduate student, who gambles at the casino a couple of times a month playing roulette and blackjack, openly discussed his gambling habits: “…obviously I understand it's not a great thing to be doing a lot, and I wouldn't exactly call gambling a good thing or a hobby, but I've never felt unable to stop gambling or like I had lost control with it.
“Enjoyment and social reasons are the main factors. If I didn't have friends who gambled, I wouldn't go to the casino by myself. It's a fun activity and not one I depend on for money, especially as I'd guess more often than not I lose money.”
Helen Rhodes, programme director of the Gambling Commission, which developed the survey in liaison with the NUS, said that the results indicate that “that there is a significant risk for young adults and for students that needs to be addressed.”
The charity GamCare, which provides information, advice and free counselling for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling alongside operating the National Gambling Helpline, identifies students as a particularly at-risk group. GamCare suggests that students may feel lonely, stressed and bored alongside having financial worries about financing their degree, and thus students resort to gambling. This is intensified with the excitement and curiosity that gambling offers to students who have just turned 18 and are now legally able to engage in gambling for the first time, as explained by one Newcastle student who described how “the only person [they had] met who enjoys the casino is a university mate” who encouraged them to join in to, describing their “enjoyment of playing the games and [the] social aspect of going to the casino with mates”.
Mr Zarb-Cousin, who now works for Fairer Gambling, which campaigns for increased gambling legislation, described how he maxed out numerous overdrafts and student loans to fund his studies. He explained the impact that gambling can have on mental health, describing how he “one day…lost about £2,500 just on the machines [and] came very close to taking [his] own life…[He] didn't really see a way out."
Gambling behaviour has been particularly observed in students who have to complete placements during their studies, including nurses, midwives and doctors, because they struggle to find the time to acquire part-time jobs and have recently experienced bursary cuts. The NUS additionally argue that technology has increased the accessibility of gambling to students.
It has additionally been revealed that some casino and bingo companies have been targeting students. Grosvenor Casinos runs a student poker league and offers free drinks and student discounts at casinos, although a spokesperson stated: "We would never encourage anyone to use casinos or gambling as a source of income or as a way of escaping debt." Gala Bingo additionally sets up stalls at some university freshers' fairs. Despite such marketing being completely legal, anti-gambling groups want universities to discourage such promotion of gambling behaviours.
Numerous strategies to promote more responsible gambling behaviour among students have been suggested. The NUS advocates the government restructuring their system of financial support for students so that they are less likely to resort to gambling to supplement their income.
Eva Crossan Jory, NUS vice-president for welfare, argues: “There needs to be a renewed focus on the reasons why some students feel it’s necessary to supplement their income through gambling – which not only land students in even greater debt, but also can lead to feelings of guilt, stress and depression.”
John de Pury, assistant director of policy at Universities UK (UUK), explaining the necessity of developing efficient nationwide gambling public policy. “Online gambling is an issue that applies more widely than to simply the student population. It needs concerted intervention by government to act on risks of online gambling and addictive behaviours.”
In response to research conducted by YouthSight in August 2017 suggesting that 1.2 million students gamble, Tim Miller, the Gambling Commission’s executive director for research, explained: “We want to encourage universities to provide the same level of information and support about the risks from gambling as they do for drugs, alcohol and safe sex.”
The YouthSight survey additionally revealed that one in eight undergraduates surveyed admitted missing lectures or seminars due to gambling. GamCare additionally provided some recommendations for universities and students’ unions to reduce the prevalence of irresponsible gambling among students. As well as informing students about responsible gambling and the support available to them both on campus and through groups such as GamCare itself, the charity advocates establishing comprehensive campus gambling policies. It also suggests undertaking regular research to evaluate students’ attitudes to gambling so that universities can effectively tailor their policies to meet their students’ needs.
GamCare have furthermore identified some indicators of risky gambling behaviour if you are concerned about yourself or a friend. These include frequent absence from lessons, drastic changes in cash flow, unexplained debt and potentially erratic behaviour. Help is available through GamCare, Gamblers Anonymous UK and Gamble Anon. Alternatively, the Student Advice Centre in the Students’ Union offers impartial advice to students.
When questioned about the rising numbers of students choosing to gamble, Jack Green, Welfare and Equality Officer at NUSU, explained that he will “continue to work with the University to ensure that appropriate support is in place for students affected by problematic gambling. Our Student Advice Centre is a free, confidential service that is able to advise and support any students who are worried about their own, or a friend’s gambling”.