I love games; horrors and puzzle/strategy are my favourite genres but I enjoy playing pretty much anything. I still believe a good story is important and shouldn't play second fiddle to the multiplayer experience unless via a co-op campaign. I also enjoy watching football, supporting the mighty Liverpool, as well as drinking tea and petting my kittens.

Gambling; it’s a subject close to my heart. For me, it’s something I always knew about; even at the early age of six, I can remember picking horses for the Grand National with my Grandad. It didn’t seem like much at the time, he’d give me £1 and I’d pick the coolest sounding horse out of the lot and put 50p on each way. When I turned 18 I didn’t need my Grandad to help me place my bets anymore, I was able to go in for myself and the first chance we had, I and a friend went into our local bookies to put a couple of pennies on that year’s Grand National. The place inside blew us away; free drinks, cool machines with flashy lights, TVs everywhere showing all the races and some foreign football games. It was amazing.

What seemed like a fun time though soon became a downward spiral and it got to the stage where I would blow entire pay cheques in the space of an hour after receiving it. It wasn’t a lot working part-time at that age, but nevertheless, it left me feeling sick to the pit of my stomach. One second you could be £100 up on top of the world, but the greed grabs hold of you and you get a buzz from the risk of placing money on the outcome of scenarios. Soon that isn’t enough and you want to win more, the problem being you end up losing it, to the point where you’ll be £100 down, then your only option is to win it back, but instead, you just keep heading in a downward spiral until you hit rock bottom.

Fortunately, I saw the mess I was getting myself into (albeit after a good few years) and I sought the help I needed, self-excluding myself from everywhere I could think of. Since then, I’ve seen people betting on all sorts of random stuff, from the colour of the Queen’s hat at a royal wedding to whether that Sutton United keeper would eat a pie during the match against Arsenal in the FA Cup. It’s all fun and games at first, but it can become addictive, and before you know it, your life can be in ruins; which is why I want to speak a little about the rise of gambling in gaming.

The first form of gambling in gaming I ever saw was a partnership between EA and Virgin Gaming, it saw people placing wagers against each other where if one beat the other at a game such as Fifa, then they’d pick up a cash prize. For example; you and another gamer both put £5 into a pot, and whoever wins gets a return of about £8.50, with the additional £1.50 being classed as a wager fee and going to EA and Virgin Gaming to help maintain their service. It may not sound like a big deal to some people, but it certainly can be if it gets out of control. You start with £5 here and there, you may win some but you’ll lose some as well, then the amount gets boring and you want bigger challenges and take bigger risks. Soon that £5 becomes £50 and before you know it, you’re rage quitting like you’ve never rage quit before. It’s one thing conceding a goal in the last minute due to lag, but to lose £50 because of it as well, that’s like being kicked in the balls when you’re already down on the floor.

Gambling has evolved since then though and with the rise of eSports, bookmakers have seen a window of opportunity and a lot of people are getting in on it. Go on the Betway website for example and you’ll see a dedicated eSports section where you can put money on things like CS:GO ESL Pro League matches or League of Legends Challenger Korea matches. It’s disturbing really how quickly bookies have pounced on this opportunity, and where once video games were seen as an innocent activity for children and less mature adults like me, they seem to have warped it into becoming something more sinister and dark. Fortunately, the majority of companies are regulated and will try to identify those people with problems and support them should they need the help to stop.

The sad part is, where there are those willing to be regulated and act with integrity, there are a lot out there who aren’t and that’s a dangerous place to be going. In fact, a recent paper released by The Gambling Commission titled Virtual currencies, eSports and social casino gaming mentioned that there were several sites investigated due to the fact they were enabling children to gamble, unbeknown to their parents. Sarah Harrison, CEO of The Gambling Commission had this to say about the current state of affairs:

“These unlicensed websites are a hidden form of gambling – they’re parasites feeding off popular video games, presenting a clear and present danger to players including kids… [One defendant that was prosecuted] knew that the site was used by children and that their conduct was illegal but they turned a blind eye in order to achieve substantial profits. The effect on children of online gambling was rightly described by the Court as ‘horrific’ and ‘serious’.”

It’s safe to say that a tough stance has been taken when it comes to this kind of website, but there are others who have a duty of care to ensure children aren’t being caught up in this besides the companies involved and The Gambling Commission. Parents too are responsible for the actions of their children, and just turning a blind eye to what they get up to isn’t going to help anyone. You may think that you’re giving your child money to buy a game, or maybe an expansion to a game they already have, but can you be sure? How many parents actually know what that child is spending money on? I mean my little brother racked up a nice £400 on his iPad, and because it was done in dribs and drabs over a long period of time, no one was any of the wiser. Fortunately, the guy we spoke to from Apple was completely understanding and refunded every penny without question, but it just goes to show that parents need tighter reigns when it comes to their kids.

It’s become that big a problem even Tracey Crouch, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport spoke out about the situation:

“It is vital that any form of gambling online is properly regulated and paramount that we protect children and vulnerable people. eSports is a phenomenon that gets bigger every day and is enjoyed by millions, but it is a concern that there are unlicensed websites jumping on the back of popular video games and encouraging children to gamble. The Gambling Commission has shown that it will take action and prosecute but it is important that parents are vigilant too and know about this risk to their children.”

Hopefully, in time we’ll see less and less of these issues creeping up, but realistically, there will always be scum who are happy to exploit others for personal gain, even children. We’re not saying for consenting adults not to gamble at all, a little wager now and then is fine as long as you’re in control. We just want more people to report when they see things they know are wrong, and warn people that if you are going to gamble you stick to the regulated sites for your own protection.

If you’ve read this article and believe you may have a gambling problem then there is support available from highly trained staff who are friendly and non-judgemental. Just visit the Gamble Aware website http://www.begambleaware.org/ where you can live chat with people who can help or alternatively, you can contact the National Gambling Helpline free on 0808 8020 133 from 8am-midnight 7 days a week. 

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