Michelle Evans: We can’t underestimate the impact of lived experiences in tackling problem gambling

When it comes to raising awareness of problem gambling and issues associated with sporting integrity among athletes, the only way to ensure that players understand the implications is through education and hearing from those with lived experience.

That’s according to Michelle Evans, Head of Communications and Wellbeing at PFA Scotland, who was speaking on a panel entitled ‘The Link Between Sports Betting Integrity & Problem Gambling’ on day two of Betting on Sports Europe – Digital.

Drawing upon her own experience of working with footballers in Scotland, Evans discussed how hearing from former sports professionals who have been afflicted by problem gambling – such as panel moderator Mark Potter, Head of Safer Gambling US at EPIC Risk Management , and fellow panellist Scott Davies, EPIC’s Lead Pro-sport Facilitator – has helped young professionals footballers understand the consequences that gambling can have.

Looking at whether further steps need to be taken, Evans said: “I think that, whether we’re looking at gambling addiction or mental health, you can never do enough. You have to keep going out there and spreading the message.

“I’m sure players see me coming and think ‘here she comes again to talk about not betting on football’. I sometimes feel like I’m a teacher, but I’ve found that if anything happens with these players, they’ll call me first.

“The lived experience and the awareness of actually seeing a sports person and someone that has walked in those same shoes in front of you is fundamental. I can’t stress enough how important I personally think that is in trying to make athletes aware of what they can and can’t do.

“Seeing someone give a talk, and discuss their lived experiences, can trigger something in these players and make them think about their own activities – which could possibly resonate with them on a personal level. Having more people come forward and tell their story is the only way that we can try and raise awareness among players. We must continue to educate them.”

With cases such as Kieran Trippier’s breaches of the FA betting regulations attracting the attention of the media, Potter posed the question over whether there needs to be a deeper understanding of the links between sporting integrity and problem gambling.

He said: “Sports integrity has historically been considered as two separate issues, and treated differently in terms of education and regulation. Throughout our work at EPIC, and particularly with our work through the gambling harm minimisation programme delivered and the world, we’ve definitely started to see a strong link between the two.”

Responding to the question, Davies drew upon his previous experience as a former problem gambler, detailing his journey to recovery and how the affliction affected him personally.

“I think it’s so important now that I can show where I was at in my life in order to help other people. In terms of when you’re not playing in a match, and you’re not getting the opportunity to show what you’re capable of on the pitch, gambling gave me that euphoric feeling almost like scoring a goal, that stimulation that I craved.

“Within the footballing world with signing on fees and big contracts, it’s very similar to that feeling of a ‘big win’ where you all of a sudden have money that you didn’t previously have. In terms of the integrity breaches, I completely understand. People need to be disciplined, there needs to be rules and regulations in place.

“And I think there are three ways: There’s people who don’t breach the rules; people breach the rules with ignorance thinking they can get away with it and then there’s people who can’t stick to the rules because of their addiction. It’s not something where I believe that everyone is trying to beat the system, there will be people out there who struggle to stop themselves.”

Lee Calverly, Sports Integrity Lead at GVC Holdings, turned the discussions towards the overall effects that a player’s breach of the betting regulations can affect the overall perception of a league or betting market.

From an operator’s point of view, Calverly highlighted that integrity breaches can impact the punters’ overall confidence in a betting product, undermining the ability to provide ‘fair and transparent’ markets.

“I think that for sports and operators, the main issue that arises is the confidence in the product. Sports rely on fans and commercial sponsorships – if there’s an issue with integrity, that’s going to impact the sport’s revenues.

“From an operator’s perspective, we offer markets which our customers demand are ‘fair and transparent’. So if we’re offering betting markets where there are issues, that can ultimately affect the future confidence of our product. It’s therefore important that we have robust processes in place to identify integrity issues and report those to the relevant parties.

“On the rule breaches side though, I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as an expert in terms of studies that have been done into this. But I do think that the correlation between a participant having a problem gambling issue and placing bets on events they shouldn’t be betting on seems logical in terms of the heightened risk. What I don’t think has ever been a key area of focus is whether a participant that has a problem gambling issue is more likely to take part in match-fixing and spot-fixing.

“I’ve dealt with a number of cases from a range of different sports. I personally haven’t seen that correlation on that side of things. I would say that the driver for players to commit match-fixing offences is more likely to be down to lower wages and uncertain futures in terms of contracts, especially in the period that we’re in.”

Betting on Sports Europe – Digital is the foremost conference for senior executives from European sports betting operators, providing a forum for high-level discussions that will help to shape the future of the industry.

The fully virtual event will bring together major players from markets across the continent on a single platform, where they will share best practice for tackling the industry’s major challenges and ideas about emerging opportunities.

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