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Student gambling problems 'on rise'

3 December 09 04:56 GMT
By Rowan Bridge
BBC Radio 5 live

There are concerns that the number of students developing problems with gambling is going up.

The charity GamCare has seen a rise in calls to its helpline with many students making contact when they find themselves overwhelmed by debt.

Chief executive Andy McLellan explains that being at university can create problems, saying: "You're away from home, it may well be the first time you are managing your own money, you don't know anybody - it may also be the first time you have been in any form of debt.

"So there are a number of pressures and risk factors there which can lead people to get into stressful situations.

"Sometimes it can mean that looking at gambling can appear to be a way of helping to deal with the problems you have encountered."

Judith Carey is head of student services at the University of Lincoln, and every year she sees students who have found themselves in financial difficulties through gambling.

Addicted

Often the problem is identified when they go through the student's bank statements.

"It's online gambling, so some of it is poker which is very popular, some of it's just betting on racing, football results, rugby games - just the sort of stuff that you see advertised on the television.," she says.

"Students are picking up on that and they are getting involved, and it is easy for them to do that because they all have high-speed internet access in their rooms."

She says most of the people she sees come to her because they have reached the point where they cannot afford to buy food, books or materials they need for their course.

She adds: "If I spoke to those students they will say to me 'my friends will all be betting as well and we will be sitting and watching it and it's that bet that's made it fun to sit and watch."

Alongside these gamblers, she says she also sees a smaller group who have become truly addicted to the habit.

They are people who have more in common with "John".

"John", whose true identity we have concealed, is a recent Cambridge maths graduate who became an obsessive online poker player.

"There were definitely periods in my second year at uni when I was playing - I probably had an individual session of about 20 hours," he says.

"Extreme"

"In a typical week, I probably would do little else between sleeping, other than maybe one big meal and toilet breaks with the wireless.

"For a period of time it was like that - very extreme.

"A typical routine would be wake up in the late evening, get dinner and then play until lunchtime the next day and then go to bed.

"So not the healthiest lifestyle, but that is what it settled on for a while."

For John, the attraction was the money that he was able to make, but his work for his degree was suffering and his parents were increasingly concerned about what was happening.

In the end, he decided to quit playing and concentrate on his degree.

John says he never saw himself as an addict and found it easy to give it all up in the end.

He decided to go "cold turkey", closing his laptop and going away on holiday to the other side of the world.

He says he's played occasionally with friends since then, but has never been tempted to go back to his old playing habits.

He graduated in the summer with a 2:1 in maths and is now looking for a job, but he has not cut himself off from his poker past altogether.

"I still have the software on my computer," he says, "I am still just a couple of clicks away and perhaps I will start looking at jobs instead, but time will tell."

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