How the Fifa World Cup is the prime time for gambling, and young people are particularly vulnerable

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 June, 2018, 8:32am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 June, 2018, 10:53pm


Within eight days of the 2014 Fifa World Cup beginning in mid-June, four suicides in Hong Kong were found to be related to football betting and unmanageable debt. This should be a grave warning to the city.

There are two serious concerns. First, some individuals are introduced to gambling during the World Cup. The link to such a prestigious event normalises and glamorises football betting in a way that may be irresistible for a young sports fan. Alarmingly, Fifa was able to overcome legislation in some countries to allow open advertising of alcohol in soccer games; the same could happen with gambling which would normalise football gambling.

Second, the gambling behaviour of those who already bet on sports regularly may worsen, and they may not notice that they are spending huge amounts of time and money on betting. In some cases, people experience serious harm as a result of excessive gambling – ruining social and family relationships, losing one’s job or dropping out of studies, lying to cover up gambling activities, craving and obsessing over gambling experiences and wins (or near-wins), becoming restless when trying to cut down on gambling, betting more to achieve the old excitement or to chase lost money.

The World Cup is particularly potent for people susceptible to developing problem gambling because people can place bets online anytime, anywhere. There are close to 20 Chinese-language sites based in neighbouring jurisdictions and some in European countries that offer a very user-friendly, anonymous gambling environment via mobile devices.

There are multiple ways to gamble on World Cup games, not only provided by the Jockey Club in Hong Kong but also, unprecedentedly, by many more illegal gambling outlets online and offline, and one can bet on the number of corner kicks, red cards, goals scored by header, or the top goal scorer.

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The strong social bonding and peer pressure surrounding the World Cup is not seen in other forms of betting. For instance, a young person will wager with their peers to show solidarity or their undivided support for a team. This does not happen in horse racing or card or casino games.

Clinical experience reveals that between five and 15 people, such as colleagues or relatives, are negatively affected by just one person’s gambling problem. When people find themselves experiencing an uncontrollable urge to bet or harm themselves, they should seek professional help. If we suspect someone needs help, we could accompany them to places where free, professional and confidential services for problem gambling are provided.

Samson Tse, professor, Department of Social Work and Social Administration, the University of Hong Kong, and Alfred Chan, supervisor, Caritas AG Counselling Centre