Felix* is sitting in a cozy office in Munich’s Schwabing district. Wooden parquet, two chairs, and a small desk. He has been coming here regularly for almost a year. One routine has replaced another. One that would have ruined almost his entire life. Felix is addicted to gambling. He started betting on football matches at an early age. First rarely, then more and more often, finally morbid.
“When I bet 1300 euros on a single game, I knew I had a big problem,” says the 25-year-old business administration student today. He speaks reflectively and eloquently, and his style of dress is well-groomed. Nothing about its appearance is reminiscent of the cliché image that arises in most minds when you think of betting addicts.
However, sports betting is widespread, especially since online betting providers have existed. In 2018, 8.8 billion euros were wagered in Germany alone, twice as much as five years earlier. Whether football, tennis, curling, chess, Champions League, or youth football in Indonesia: Almost always, when somewhere in the world organized sports are practiced, you can bet on it on the Internet on reliable sites like Slot Gacor.
Of the 18 German first-division football clubs, only one club does not have a betting provider as a premium sponsor. Famous personalities like Oliver Kahn are the faces of the providers. And they are everywhere. Whether on TV, in online articles, or in the stadium: Fans can no longer consume football without being constantly confronted with advertising for sports betting.
Almost half a million Germans have a problematic relationship with gambling
For Felix, his path to addiction began when he was 18. Bayern fan, a football-loving circle of friends, “and the advertising for betting is everywhere,” says Felix. “I think that FC Bayern is also so strongly promoting Tipico was a big part of the fact that I thought: This is completely normal, completely harmless.”
Felix’s career from a hobby bettor to a betting addict is almost a blueprint for the addiction of many young adults. “Gambling addiction can actually affect anyone,” says Hilke Dirks of the addiction support association Blaues Kreuz in Munich, an institution that has been Felix’s therapist for a year. “But especially with sports betting, you can say that there is a risk group: between 18 and 25 years, sports-savvy, mostly male,” says Dirks. Almost half of all Germans spend money on gambling every month. Almost half a million people in Germany often do this problematically, a pathological gambling addiction officially has around 215,000 of them, and the number of unreported cases is likely to be significantly higher. “Most of the time, the players move in an environment, such as the circle of friends or the football club, in which betting is completely accepted, in which they even reinforce each other,” says Dirks.
“Sometimes I’ve looked around and asked: Boy, what are you doing here?”
It was the same with Felix. “It was like a ritual: meeting up with friends in the morning for breakfast. Discuss games and odds. Then bet.” Initially, Felix wanted to bet on his favorite team and win a little money while watching football, as he says. A side income with which he wanted to raise his standard of living despite his student salary: “Travelling, an expensive lifestyle and putting money aside on the side – as a student, this was actually not possible for me. My great hope was sports betting. I’ve won a lot of money from time to time. The fatal thing is that this sense of achievement then burns into the brain in such a way that you forget everything else, the many losses,” says Felix. Soon he bet not only on Bayern games but on the entire Bundesliga, the English Premier League, leagues in which he thought he knew his way around.
At some point he bet on the Romanian League, without ever having seen a game of it, and regularly went to casinos and gambling halls. “Sometimes I’ve looked around and asked, ‘Boy, what are you doing here? You don’t belong there! There are so many people here who have been completely ruined by addiction.'” Felix became more and more aware that looking at the people around him could also be a glimpse into his future. He deleted his online betting accounts, blocked credit cards, and only went to betting shops. “But it didn’t help anything,” says Felix. Because he couldn’t stop betting completely. The longing for the big win was too great. Too much confidence in one’s own football expertise. He convinced himself that he just hadn’t found the right betting strategy yet.
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“Most betting addicts wait until their absolute social and financial low.”
What is particularly dangerous about sports betting is that the bettors think they have an advantage through their sporting expertise – over the other bettors and the betting shops. An advantage that does not exist, as researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered. Whether experienced weather, football enthusiast or absolute layman: There was no difference between the groups of test persons in how often they typed correctly.
Since it is a so-called hidden addiction, so there are hardly any external signs of the addiction, and relatives only become aware of the problem late. For this reason, those affected usually only get help when they are on the precipice. “It often takes several years, sometimes even decades,” says Dirks. “Most betting addicts wait until their absolute social and financial low. With alcohol, we are more likely to experience that people with problematic consumption come to us when it is perhaps just tipping over. Unfortunately, this rarely happens when gambling. We would like those affected to seek advice earlier.”
“I borrowed money from my grandmother. Again and again”
Felix reached his lowest point when he had 6000 euros in debt five years after the first bet. And his social life also suffered from his addiction to betting. “I sat with my girlfriend’s parents at lunch and became more and more nervous, constantly looking at the clock: half an hour until the game starts. How do I manage to place a bet somehow? Only 20 minutes left, only ten left. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else,” says Felix.
The money for his addiction came partly from overdrawn credit cards, and partly from relatives. “I borrowed money from my grandmother. Again and again,” says Felix. By having to borrow money from relatives, the problem became apparent relatively quickly. The debts to his grandmother and mother were the reason why he sought help. His mother convinced him to look for therapy options, and he found the Blue House in Munich, which cares for 200 gambling addicts every year. “When I first came to the office here, everything was suddenly much more real. It’s like a realization: I really have a big problem. I checked: Boy, if you continue like this, you won’t be able to complete your studies and so you will never get back on your feet financially,” says the 25-year-old.
Felix’s second attempt to get rid of the addiction is currently underway
For almost a year now, he has been going to group therapy once a week, has weekly one-on-one meetings, and occasionally has special sessions. Felix only told his best friends about his addiction and treatment. The fear of social ostracism is too great. “The topic of betting addiction is still ridiculed. Many people think that you can just stop and get the addiction under control yourself. But that’s definitely not the case,” says Felix. Some of his friends are also definitely addicted to gambling, says the student. But not a single one of them is in treatment. On the one hand, they take addiction lightly. On the other hand, the much bigger problem, there are almost only in large cities comprehensive therapy options for gambling addiction.
At the moment, Felix’s second attempt to get rid of the addiction is underway. The first time, he suffered a relapse during the 2018 World Cup. Now he hasn’t bet for almost a year. Dirks rates his course of treatment as very promising. But you can never be sure: “The difficult thing about therapy for betting addiction is: It is not so clear to define what you are allowed to do, what is not. Can I play Monopoly with my child? Is a World Cup prediction game in the office okay? A bet among friends? We advise against all this. At the beginning of the therapy, we even recommend not watching football at all,” says Dirks.
“I will definitely miss this feeling of happiness when a bet slip has worked”
Felix also sees himself on the right track. In total, he has lost 35,000 euros in the six years he has been betting. He has now paid off the debts to the banks. Privately, this could take a while. Soon Felix has his last therapy session. After that, he will be on his own. He now regularly watches football matches again, but only in an environment where he feels safe, which knows he has a serious problem. But will he manage to never relapse again? The relapse rate is similar to that of alcohol addiction.
The corona crisis also carries a great risk of relapse. While bookmakers try to make up for the loss of revenue from the lack of sports offers through offers and stronger advertising for their online casinos, boredom, isolation, loneliness, financial bottlenecks due to short-time work or job loss, and conflicts in partnership and families are risk factors. “We assume that right now more and more those affected use the online gambling offers,” says Dirks.
“I find the idea of giving up gambling for a lifetime pretty crass. When I think about it, it triggers a lot in me,” says Felix. Mourning? Panic? “Yes, definitely. I have so many positive memories of betting. I will definitely miss this feeling of happiness when a bet slip has worked.” It is precisely this feeling that will probably never let go of addicts that makes it so difficult to just stop. A feeling of happiness that settles in the head at the first big win and, if you are unlucky, never lets you go.