Are Students Gambling On Their Future?
Two years ago, the BBC and Huffington Post reported on the National Union of Students’ growing concerns over the increase of students turning to gambling as a way to fund their education. Since that statement by Women’s Officer Estelle Hart on Radio 5, the NUS have not made coherent moves towards the eradication of student gambling on a national level indicating that the problem is either not as wide-spread as first implied or that the NUS have more pressing priorities to address.
Are students really turning to gambling in a desperate plea to raise more funds for rent and food or have students become an easy target, with perceived gambling addictions adding to the long line of stereotypes foisted on the youth of today? I sat down with three University of Leeds students -Ben, Laura and Daniel – to get their take on the matter.
When asked if he gambled, Ben had no qualms admitting to his weekly ritual. ‘I do it and it’s fun. It makes watching the footie on a Saturday that much more interesting. I’d rather spend two pound on that than a pint.’
Innocent enough. For Ben, the emphasis is not on winning but the enjoyment of waiting to see if he has won. But then he had a few more stories to offer, and the polar opposites of gambling become apparent. ‘One of my mates blew his entire student loan in one night – he was so drunk.’ Suddenly the stereotype becomes a reality. Give a student a lump sum cash injection and they will fritter it away in an instant, drawn to the bright lights and hedonistic den of iniquity otherwise known as a casino.
Or maybe not. When I asked about his experience of casinos, Ben surprised me. ‘We go for the free buffet breakfast. You have to be a member, but you can go in at the end of a night out. You don’t have to spend anything, and you don’t have to gamble.’ A free fry-up the morning after sounds ideal to most people, not just students with supposedly tight purse strings. Then Laura put the male gambling stereotype to one side, regaling her own memories. ‘They don’t have any clocks in casinos, so I ended up staying until 7am,’ she laughed. The reminder of the money she’d won or lost didn’t annoy her. By her own admission, Laura doesn’t worry about the financial impact of a night at the casino. She doesn’t need to.
During our discussion, Daniel stayed quiet and I tried to tease out his own experiences. ‘I only gamble if I have money I can afford to lose.’ I found this idea bizarre and questioned whether this meant he didn’t have any savings, but he told me he sets aside a small amount each month.
Gambling seemed to be viewed as a luxury, like going to the cinema or out for a drink but with more of an adrenaline rush. These students appear to know what they are doing, and know to walk away when they’ve had enough. They understand the pitfalls of gambling, but buy into the system and pay to play anyway because they enjoy it. ‘Some people can handle it and walk away, some can’t,’ Laurel told me. ‘It depends on whether or not you have an addictive personality.’ The potential for addiction is a serious matter, as is the small minority who blow their loan. Perhaps the government should stop giving students lump sums three times a year. This would mitigate this possibility and prepare students for managing their finances in later life.
It is easy to tar all students with the same brush, but then you hear that not every story is a negative one. Ben told me of two students who pocketed £700 for betting the their relationship would last until the end of University, and Laura said she once tried to place a bet on who would die first: Ant of Dec. The bet was refused though, because it was too morbid. So betting shops have a conscience now, too.
For too long, students have been perpetuated as foolish and frivolous. You only have to look at the latest array of channel four comedies to see this in action – Neil from the Inbetweeners heads straight to the fruit machine when he gets to the local pub. The belief that students are irresponsible no doubt stems from the appearance of their disposable income, but not everyone is sucked in to gambling their rent away on a student night out. Not everyone can afford to, and those who can ‘afford to lose money’ don’t necessarily lose.