Universities can do more to address gambling harms

Claire Patel is Programme Lead University & Student Engagement at YGAM

University presents young people with an abundance of opportunities to experiment with new experiences as they enter adulthood.

Often, going to university involves moving away from home for the first time, meeting new friends, receiving a student loan – and all at a time when young people are newly adult in the eyes of the law.

One activity that students can legally engage in at 18 is gambling, and research shows us they are doing so in large numbers.

The latest Annual Student Gambling Survey, commissioned by Ygam and GAMSTOP, revealed that 71 per cent of university students had gambled in the last 12 months. Male students were more likely to have gambled than females. The most common gambling activity for males was “Online Sports Betting”.

Among those students who gamble, one in four may be experiencing harm, with half of students who gamble reporting that gambling has impacted their university experience.

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This impact of gambling on student life is significant. 13 per cent reported having trouble paying for food, 10 per cent missed lectures and tutorials, and 10 per cent reported that gambling led to a decline in completing assignments and impacted grades. 9 per cent struggled to pay bills or accommodation costs.

Ygam is an award-winning charity working to prevent young people from experiencing gaming and gambling harms through awareness raising, education and research. The Ygam team is providing university and SU staff with specialist City & Guilds assured training on the subjects to help increase understanding. However, there is a need for greater participation and involvement from universities and SUs to help better educate, support, and safeguard their students.

Understanding the motivations behind why, where, and how students are gambling is important in tackling the issue effectively. The survey found that nearly half (48 per cent) gamble to make money, but only 11 per cent reported winning money weekly.

11 per cent of respondents said they gamble to escape problems, and 4.5 per cent reported that they gamble because they are unable to stop or are addicted. One in three students who gambled were spending £11-£20 per week, one in four spending £21-£50, and 13 per cent spending £51-£100. Moreover, 8m per cent borrowed from family and friends, and 6 per cent turned to payday loans to fund their gambling.

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Cryptocurrency emerged as a common investment for students, with over 40 per cent buying cryptocurrencies in the last year. This participation rate is higher than average rate found in the general population (10 per cent, highlighted in research commissioned by HMRC in 2022). While the purchase of cryptocurrency is not currently regulated as a gambling activity, more awareness needs to be raised around the risks and potential financial difficulties that the volatile value of cryptocurrencies may cause for students.

Despite the prevalence of gambling and the potential risks of harm, the survey revealed a concerning lack of awareness among the affected students regarding the support available to them. 45 per cent of those who gamble were unaware of any support offered on gambling harms by their university.

Universities have a growing list of safeguarding issues on which they are asked to support students, and it is a challenge to stay ahead of emerging risks, especially in a fast-paced digital world. However, gambling, particularly online, is present in student life and universities and their SUs have a key role to play to help prevent harm.

Harm reduction on tour

Ygam is now touring universities and SUs throughout the UK with our partners GAMSTOP to engage both staff and students. GAMSTOP is the UK’s online self-exclusion scheme, providing a free service which allows consumers to exclude themselves from all online gambling sites.

The organisation has seen a 30 per cent increase in the number of 16-24-year-olds registering this year. During the visits, together, we set up a visible stand to distribute information leaflets and encourage students to have open conversations with their peers.

We know that not only are a large percentage of the student population gambling on a regular basis, but many of them are also doing so in a way that may cause them to experience harm. The data presents a concerning picture of student gambling harms in the UK.

Taking proactive steps to address this issue and support students more effectively will improve student wellbeing. By investing in prevention education, integrating the prevention and reduction of gambling harms into health and wellbeing strategies, and supporting further research, universities and their SUs can play a pivotal role in reducing gambling harms on campus.

Educating our young people on the risks of gambling and where to find support for gambling harms is of utmost importance – and universities and their SUs can take action through providing evidence-based information and safeguarding practices. Ygam’s team is here and ready to collaborate with SUs and universities to ensure that students can enjoy their experience free from gambling harms.

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