More must be done to address the problem, expert says
An expert on pathological gambling has called for major changes to Portugal’s sports betting laws, including a “more effective support network” and a “more robust self-exclusion mechanism”.
Pedro Hubert, who heads the Instituto de Apoio ao Jogador (Gambler Support Institute) and published a doctoral thesis focused on the characterisation and profile of pathological gamblers in Portugal, says these changes are vital to help address the issue of gambling addiction.
A self-exclusion mechanism allows someone who is aware they suffer from a gambling addiction to add themselves to a self-exclusion list, which prevents them from accessing gambling platforms using their own name and data.
“It’s very important that it exists, and it does work, and it’s important that the sites are regulated in Portugal. Often, people ask for self-exclusion and are not offered a helpline, treatment teams, a leaflet or any information to understand,” he told Lusa news agency.
On the other hand, he considers it “extremely important to change the legislation”, recalling “the millions that the state collects in taxes” from the tax on this type of gambling (€59.3 million in the second quarter of 2023, according to the report by the Gaming Regulation and Inspection Service, €14.4 million more than in the same period last year).
“It is about time to redirect these taxes to create a more effective support network, with inpatient and outpatient treatment centres for alcohol and substances, to tackle problematic gambling, and to have more helplines and more human resources,” he said.
Another suggestion relates to “doing research”, pointing out that the lack of recent in-depth studies on the subject makes it difficult to establish courses of action.
The psychologist has noticed a “complete change in the entire gambling paradigm” with the advent of the internet and online gambling, which is growing rapidly in Portugal and around the world.
“First, there was the poker fever, and 10 or 15 years ago, sports betting came along, galloping and significantly increasing the number of games and people playing,” he added.
In fact, the report from the Gaming Regulation and Inspection Service (SRIJ) for the second quarter of 2023 noted an increase of 2.9% compared to the previous three months, the result of 190,200 new registrations, compared to 81,200 cancellations, with the majority of bettors (81%) under the age of 45.
These newcomers are almost as many as the 181,600 who self-excluded by registering in a mechanism that prevents them from accessing the licensed platforms in their own name and with the data they provide.
Pedro Hubert has been working in the field for the last two decades and has seen the sector change, including the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has made sports betting “grow a lot”.
“Even though there aren’t as many sporting events, sports betting has grown a lot because people even know about football, tennis, basketball, and being at home, convinced of the illusion of control and knowing things, being in the comfort of home, the money not being physical…” he says.
For online gambling and sports betting “to become a problem”, he says, there are “structural and situational” issues that contribute to this, starting with the increase in punters and the “truly worrying intersection” with various types of games, from luck or chance to betting and vice versa, from the Internet to physical games.
Advertising, or “all this marketing” in general, “has a huge impact”, he says.
“There’s no doubt about it. I did a study with patients who had relapsed, asking them what could be the biggest trigger for relapse. What they mentioned most was advertising, prizes, bonuses, and invitations to gamble,” he said.
In another study, he asked long-time gambling patients for their suggestions on proposed legislation.
“There was unanimous agreement that the issue of advertising should be changed so that it isn’t so aggressive. It’s an invitation, both for those who have already had problems and for those who are still there,” he laments.
While he doesn’t want to see “a total ban”, he believes that recognising gambling as a pathological problem opens the way for “more to be done” than a code of good practice in advertising, not least because countries are starting to emerge where this type of message, on shirts and other spaces, is no longer allowed.
“I’m in favour of a review of advertising to protect the youngest and most vulnerable. It’s not just those with gambling problems. It’s all about normalising behaviour,” he concluded.
Bookmakers’ sponsorship of sports “needs investigating”
Bookmakers’ sponsorship of sports clubs and sports requires a wide-ranging reflection by all those involved, the secretary of state for youth and sport, João Paulo Correia, said on Friday.
Questioned by Lusa about the many cases of advertising for bookmakers in the sector, he said that it is an issue to be debated.
“We can’t pretend that this isn’t a subject that deserves deep reflection, even prompted by examples from abroad – Italy and Spain have already put the brakes on it, England has also announced its intention, and some countries are adopting dissuasive measures,” said João Paulo Correia.
In the 2023/24 season, sports betting companies are sponsoring and designating eight senior championships in six team sports in Portugal.
“The in-depth reflection I’m talking about has to be done because we can’t make a decision that strongly harms a sector. It is known that the advertising of bookmakers in the Primeira Liga (Portugal’s top football division) is 72%,” the secretary of state added, alluding to the importance of the top tier of national football, with 13 of the 18 first-division teams being sponsored.
However, João Paulo Correia wants the discussion to be broader, given the importance of this sector in Portuguese society.
“The in-depth reflection has to involve other areas than just sport, and we have to be sure of the impact it might have on a sector [football] of our economic activity, which generates thousands of jobs, pays social security contributions, pays taxes. We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a sector that has a major source of income, in this support from private companies,” he said.