Don't score an own goal by letting World Cup betting get out of control
For football fans suffering from gambling problems a tough month lies ahead. With 64 World Cup matches across 31 days and a relentless bombardment of bookmaker advertising on television, in high street betting shops and of course direct to your phone, the possibility of avoiding temptation is slim.
And unlike some forms of gambling, such as betting on the spin of a roulette wheel or a virtual greyhound race, if you’re a football fan then you care about the match results, you want to see the world’s greatest players battle it out. So to turn your back on the tournament because you can’t control your betting is cruel punishment to add misery to the effects of addiction.
Admittedly, you are unlikely to care as much about every match – and the opener between Russia and Saudi Arabia could be one we all have to suffer until the juicier contests arrive – but in some ways that can make them more alluring as a betting medium. Not fussed about whether Japan beat Senegal? Why not make the game worth watching with a cheeky bet? Can’t do any harm, surely.
It is very rare to meet a football fan without an opinion. Everyone is a judge, everyone knows the game. For one month every four years we all become experts on Iran’s team selection and the Peru coach’s tactics, but only after we’ve mugged up on the stats or, more likely, taken on board the opinions of an army of pundits popping up everywhere from pitchside in Nizhny Novgorod to the know-all at the desk beside you at work.
It is that self-belief in knowledge of a sport so many follow closely through the year that can be dangerous when allied with a plethora of betting opportunities.
In the recently published Tony 10, which charts how a post office worker from County Wexford stole €1.7 million from his employer to feed his betting addiction, it is the encouragement of a friend to join him in the betting shop to place a bet on the Holland v Argentina match at France 1998, “just to have an interest”, that gives the unfortunate Tony O’Reilly his first taste of betting.
Unfortunately, his optimistic scorecast on Patrick Kluivert to hit the back of the net first and Holland to win 2-1 is a winner and gives him the idea he might just be very good at predicting the outcome of football matches.
Insight from problem gambling forums
A dip into the website forums of responsible gambling groups reveals the agony of those who dread the prospect of their resolve being tested by the World Cup. The advice they pass on to fellow sufferers could be taken on board by all of us during the next month: "Stay strong and enjoy the matches for what they are – football and not gambling events.”
“The old gambler inside me used to think I enjoyed a match more when I had a bet on it but now I’m starting to see the bigger picture and can think of how stressed and on edge it made me.”
“I now watch a match and just enjoy it – no thinking about betting or stressing out about my finances and it’s so much more enjoyable.”
The anguish expressed by one fan will be easily understood by many: “England losing on penalties will give me enough pain. I’ve no need to add to it by gambling on this World Cup.”
“Just sit back, enjoy the football, savour the players you’ve never heard of, cringe at the cheating and enjoy the magic stories this World Cup creates. Sticking a bet on it won’t make it better viewing.”
“Get some friends over to watch the games. Don’t avoid football, because that means gambling has taken more than money from you.”
The last message is particularly pertinent – if you share the match experience with others and talk about bets you may have placed instead of concealing just how much you have put on, that is a far healthier way of taking part rather than surreptitiously placing bets through your phone and topping them up in-play.
So, if you want to watch the World Cup, have some bets and enjoy the tournament without the pain of losing the sort of money that could have bought you a flight to Kaliningrad and a match ticket you are going to need a strategy.
And if you need help then do not be slow in going to the experts for advice. You can find them at begambleaware.org or in Ireland at dunlewey.net.