The World Cup – gambling’s biggest global event

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Every four years, football’s World Cup leads to the biggest surge in sports betting globally, with organisers FIFA believing that a record US $155bn was gambled worldwide on the last edition back in 2018.

With the latest edition of the tournament starting this weekend, it’s likely that this pattern will be repeated, regardless of the political and ethical controversy that has surrounded the staging of the event in Qatar.

A first-ever winter tournament for most northern hemisphere nations is set to play an interesting role in how the figures begin to stack up, with a global cost-of-living crisis and the likelihood of fewer conflicting outdoor pursuits among the factors that have been surveyed to try and predict whether even more money than normal will be invested in a huge selection of bets relating to the tournament.

For those who take a wider interest than having a stab at the likely winners, or the player set to secure the Golden Boot, the almost wall-to-wall feast of football offers a constant temptation to place in-play bets, with the surveys indicating that new gamblers will emerge and more players increasing their activity – and with it the obvious potential for gambling harm to emerge.

A YouGov Direct study, conducted in September, suggested that 24% of potential UK gamblers were somewhat likely or very likely to open a new betting account to satisfy their appetite to bet during the tournament, and whilst 28% gave the response of ‘not very likely’, they didn’t rule out doing likewise.

A further study, published this week by Opinium Research on behalf of GambleAware, hinted at the effect of inflation biting on supporters’ betting habits. The football fans polled indicated that 35% would curb their spending on World Cup bets due to rising costs elsewhere, but worryingly for 16% of those surveyed, they suggested that a squeeze on income would likely increase their gambling spend, heightening the risk of them potentially spending money they couldn’t afford to lose, in the hope that it paid off. As a bedrock of EPIC’s messaging, we always say that nobody should spend a pound or a minute more than they can afford to lose.

Moving on from the financial risk to the time element, there is also a warning that productivity could be affected by a tournament that features multiple fixtures during standard European working hours; something that North American audiences are accustomed to when major fixtures take place in Europe on midweek evenings, but less familiar to fans to the east of the Atlantic, who are less used to looking beyond their continent and its customary fixture slots for their football fix.

A prime example for English supporters is that their first game against Iran kicks off at 1pm GMT on Monday 21st November; the second day of the tournament. The World Cup is one of the few times when companies in the UK have to contemplate a flexible approach to work around football-based distractions, but whilst it’s understandable that passionate fans would want to request (and hope to be granted) dispensation to be glued to their own team’s efforts, those with a compulsive need to place in-play bets on a host of other fixtures face up to three weeks of disruption to their productivity or attentiveness at work, due to the number of daytime games.

EPIC Risk Management have taken a pragmatic approach to balancing staff needs, with director of operations Danielle Smith explaining:

“All EPIC colleagues are able to choose whether they wish to watch the matches of their home nation within working hours, essentially pressing a pause button on non-urgent work-related activity throughout the matches.

“Individuals in any walk of life may respond to the temptation of trying to watch or gamble on the other fixtures that fall within usual working hours; like most companies, we would expect there to be an element of lenience to track the score updates when staff aren’t working on critical projects, but we would advise all employees to take the time to look out for one another.

“If someone in your workplace seems irrationally distracted by fixtures that wouldn’t otherwise have a direct bearing on the team they support or dislike, sometimes it goes beyond pure fandom and could be a sign that they’re awaiting the outcomes of a bet that could make or break their financial situation, or be compelled to continually places a string of bets on events during the game, such as bookings, corners or next goal scorers.

“Rather than being quick to issue reprimands or threaten discipline to staff that seem unduly preoccupied by the games, it could be better to talk about the reason for their overt interest; it may help to uncover a wider problem that affects them and their relationship with gambling far beyond the more intense activity that surrounds the World Cup.”

EPIC’s insights executive, Andy Margett, also recalls how major tournaments of this nature were a magnet not just to him, but those around him. He has now gone 15 years without a bet – longer than anyone within our company who previously experienced serious gambling harm – but recalls a time when he would effectively become a ringleader for office tips or sweepstakes when the big events came around.

“I was the guy organising sweepstakes at work, so it was pretty big for me,” he explains.

“I was seen as the ‘go-to guy for gambling’, so it was only natural I was organising gambling activity on any big event.

“It was ego-fuelled, because it looked like I knew more than my peers, and that I could be trusted with the information I knew.

“I used to meet people in bookies who wanted to learn how to make a bet on horses, football, etc, whenever there was a big sporting event taking place. I would take great pleasure in showing them how to do it and I felt above others.”

While something as innocent as chipping £2 into a communal pot to try to win the lot may not seem like a likely cause of gambling harm – and indeed, for the majority it wouldn’t be – with the wall-to-wall coverage of the games due to be accompanied by similar levels of promotion for gambling opportunities, we would urge everyone to look out for their family, friends and colleagues to check in and see whether those around them are looking for an even bigger win or thrill than simply keeping an eye on the results of a team handed to them on a folded-up scrap of paper who may be worth £10, £25 or £50 to them. This is especially pertinent if there’s a sign that there’s a frequency to the amounts or quantity that looks like more money or time than they can afford to spend.

Anyone personally affected by gambling issues during the World Cup – or identifying someone close to them exhibiting the signs – can find support networks available to them round the clock by clicking here to view relevant charities or good causes that can help in times of need.