Students

Hoping and praying for a win

The thrill of online gambling

Despite heavy gambling regulations in the Netherlands, some students at the RUG are spending a lot of time – and money – gambling online. ‘You just need to get lucky once’.
By Jacob Thorburn

It usually begins with a few of your friends. You’re sat on the sofa, enjoying a beer and some snacks; there’s a big football match later this evening. You’ve been looking forward to it all week and hashing out the odds of a win with anyone who will listen: your classmates, your group-chat buddies, your bored girlfriend.

The line-ups are announced. The Champions League anthem starts playing. Your friends pull out their phones and tap furiously at their screens. You’ve heard them talk about it before, but this is your first time stepping into the weird and wild world of online sports gambling.

The rush of a bet is hard to beat

Your finger hesitates over the green ‘Place Bet’ button. It’s only five euros, you tell yourself; hardly a bank-breaker. And all of your friends have been doing it for months; one even won 150 euros in a single evening. So, with a deep exhale and a rush of trepidation, you tap the button and take your first steps on the path to online riches.

If this isn’t your story, it’s probably the story of someone you know. For RUG students, online gambling can be a good way to get a little thrill and a little extra cash – if all goes well. Which of course, it often doesn’t. But win or lose, students say, the rush of a bet is hard to beat.

7,000 euro

Jordan (22) is from the Netherlands and has been a student at the RUG for five years. He started funding his gambling hobby with his own money, but as it became more of a habit he started dipping into his student loan to cover bets occasionally.

Jordan mainly bets on football. His knowledge of the sport is extensive; he tracks stats and probabilities with a detailed Excel spreadsheet. Jordan records every corner and yellow card in a football match to inform his next bet.

Jordan started gambling four years ago. Today, he insists he has won more money than he has lost. His average weekly spending is around 35 euro. At that rate, Jordan has easily bet over 7,000 euro in four years. The number shocks him; he’s never calculated the big picture before. ‘You don’t expect that when you’re betting like 10 euro at a time.’

Jordan laughs at the suggestion that he might be addicted to gambling. Still, he agrees to take an online test for potential gambling addicts. According to the website Test je gokgedrag (only in Dutch), he doesn’t have a gambling problem: ‘you gamble for pleasure and there is no cause for concern.’

Schoolboy bets

Four years might sound like a long time, but some students have been betting since they were thirteen years old.

Paul (20) and Andy (21) both come from the Balkans. When they were schoolboys, they would bring their betting slips to school and excitedly discuss their next bet with friends. They laugh as they recall the hours of class they wasted just day dreaming how to spend their imaginary winnings.

In your mind you’ve bought all you want

They haven’t grown out of the excitement and the big dreams. ‘Even now, you’re hoping and praying for it. Before the match is over, you’ve already bought all the things you want in your mind.’

Paul stopped betting six months ago. But when he was still gambling, he would bet on all sorts of different sports: football, NFL, basketball, hockey, baseball. He once placed a bet on Turkish second division volleyball – and won. Over time, his bets were getting more ludicrous and less probable, with potential rewards of tens or hundreds of thousands of euros.

Lucky

But for Paul, the gambling was never really about the money. ‘I don’t really care about the money. Once you start betting with the mindset of “I need money,” then you’re fucked.’ For him it was about the thrill: he loved the rush of slim odds. ‘It’s like the lottery. Why do people play? Because you just need to get lucky once.’

For Andy, money mattered. He remembers one devastating loss; he came within seconds of winning 400 euro. In the aftermath of that losing bet, he says, he went crazy: he punched walls, broke furniture, and locked himself away in a rage. For bettors, losing is ‘the worst feeling ever’, he says. Paul agrees.

But the anger and disappointment that comes with the big losses haven’t turned him from gambling. ‘Absolutely not.’ Because the thrill of winning will always bring him back.

I can spend money better than this

Ben (23) is Dutch and started gambling early too. He was fifteen when he befriended the owners of a convenience store – who turned a blind eye to underage gamblers.

Underage

Ben’s parents eventually became concerned with his behaviour and complained to the owners. But he wasn’t the only one, he says; most of his friends have also been gambling since they were teenagers.

Sometimes, Ben says, he would bet more than ten times in a single day. He fell in love with the ‘extra layer of tension when money was on the line.’ He would bet an average of 40 euros a week when he was gambling regularly. He thinks online gambling is too accessible, particularly for underage kids and those at risk of becoming addicted.

Ben quit 18 months ago when he lost over 120 euro in a single night. ‘I woke up the next day thinking enough is enough; I can spend money better than this.’

Small market, big impact

Despite the Netherlands being one of the smallest online gambling markets in Europe, the industry commands revenues of between 150-250 million euros per year.

Under current legislation, online games of chance – that aren’t offered by state sponsored organisations – are strictly illegal. With The Remote Gambling Act the Dutch government wants to regulate the market by issuing permits.

René Jansen, chair of the Netherlands Gambling Authority, says legalising online betting is essential in order to ‘protect participants in online games of chance, [where] such protection is impossible in an illegal market.’

At risk target audience

Meanwhile, gambling addiction has been diagnosed as a brain disorder. Addiction can be easily manipulated by predatory betting companies. In the Netherlands, there are an estimated 95,000 ‘at risk’ gamblers according to government statistics.

‘We don’t see that many people with online gambling problems, yet’, says Rob Otten of the centre for addiction care, VNN. ‘But we expect an increase when the new law allowing online gambling passes.’

A quick search on Google reveals thousands of businesses offering their services, each with more enticing ‘free bet’ offers than the last. These offers seem targeted especially to students. Toto, one of the Dutch gambling companies that many students use, advertises itself as ‘the only legal provider of sports betting in the Netherlands.’

Tips

‘Be aware that gamblers never really make a profit’, advises Otten. ‘You can win some, for sure, but overall you will lose – and end up funding others.

When you’re spending money you can’t spare, or are playing to cover debts, you’ve gone too far. Get help quitting.

Play sports instead of playing the odds on sports gambling. It’s more rewarding, healthier, and doesn’t land you in debt.’

All names of interviewees have been anonymised for the purposes of this article. There are numerous support systems for gambling addicts available online including Gamblers Anonymous.

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