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Games of chance – between business and addiction

Gambling is a phenomenon encountered in many forms and cultures. There are several types: social, professional, and pathological gambling.

Skopje, February 2020 (MIA) – Gambling is a phenomenon encountered in many forms and cultures. There are several types: social, professional, and pathological gambling.

Social gambling is almost a socially acceptable form of fun and recreation, whereas professional gambling is a job done by trained, skilled, and disciplined persons.

Gambling addiction is a disorder characterized by its common, repeated gambling episodes which dominate the person’s life and damage their social, professional, and family life.

Pathological gamblers have strong gambling urges which slowly consume each aspect of their lives. Gambling addicts spend more and more money to live out the desired intensity of excitement. They continue such behaviors with no regard to the possible consequences to their social and family life, employment and relationships.

What starts as an episode can quickly progress into a need

Psychologist and therapist Marija Stefanova says that gambling is an impulse control disorder, characterized as a disease, or more precisely as an impulse disorder, in the International Classification of Diseases.

“The person feels uncontrollable need to gamble, and the more time passes where this need remains unsatisfied, tension grows. In moments of gambling, there is a pleasure or relief reaction. Guilt tends to follow right after,” Stefanova says.

The reasons for this are commonly a combination of genetic factors, social and psychological ones.

“In some families, gambling is inherited or passed down – a learned behavior. There are also factors such as anxiety, loneliness, depression etc, which contribute to an increase in tension, in which case gambling is a way to reduce this tension.

Gambling addiction tends to replace other kinds of addiction. Former alcoholics, for example, become gambling addicts. This all points to the importance of the psychological factor,” Stefanova points out.

Oftentimes, this addiction starts off as an episode, but quickly develops into a need that must be satisfied.

“The need for excitement and action is more important than the monetary gain, so the consequences can be huge material losses. These people often suffer other kinds of losses apart from material ones, such as the dissolution of their family, divorcing their spouse, losing friends, losing their job, etc. When a person acts this way for a long time, there is a total physical and mental health breakdown,” Stefanova says, adding that a problem when treating this type of addicts is that people tend to be unaware that they have a problem, only seeking help when they promise their families that they would change.

“In my practice as a psychologist, I have limited experience in treating this type of addicts, and it’s safe to say it was unsuccessful. The reason for this, I believe, is the fact that these people don’t see a problem with their behavior. They don’t accept the reality of the situation. They only seek help when they promise their families that they would change. The reason for seeking help is to please others, not a desire for self-improvement,” she says.

Increase in the number of places dedicated to games of chance could lead to the unfortunate increase in gambling addicts, according to Stefanova.

“Opening so many bet centers that are funded by the state leaves me with the impression that, not only do we not prevent this addiction from happening, we encourage it on a societal level,” Stefanova says.

The games of chance industry contributes EUR 253 million to the budget

The games of chance industry contributes 4% to the GDP, EUR 253 million to the national budget, directly employs 7,700 people, and 5,4000 people indirectly.

According to the Association of Bookmakers of Macedonia (ASOM), the games of chance industry stimulates both the national economy and other branches of the economy.

Inspired by the draft- amendments to the law on dislocation of betting shops, ASOM conducted a public opinion poll.

The survey showed that 79% of sports gamblers play for fun and socialization, and 75% of them bet up to 200 denars.

“With statistics like these, I doubt that we’re talking about addiction, but of course, I’m not excluding the possibility. We, as an association, believe that we should be socially responsible, which is why we work on campaigns and educational programs to raise employees’ and citizens’ awareness to possible betting risks.

There are institutions on a state level working in the field of addictions, but if the state thinks that there is a need for a more concrete and specialized approach in treating gambling addictions, we are fully prepared to back them. We vouch for a safe, secure and sustainable environment for our players,” says Vasko Ilijeski, ASOM president.

If the proposed amendments are enacted, ASOM considers that this will lead to creating conditions for a “black market” of games of chance.

“This industry is a strong impulse for the national economy, contributing more than EUR 253 million, employing 7,700 people who would be out of a job overnight under these legal changes. We should all be concerned about the fact that this will lead to black market conditions and motivate informal economy. The state, and organizations such as the Agency of Youth and Sport, and other social organizations funded by the state budget, will lose funding they get from all the winnings from the games of chance industry,” Ilijeski points out.

Thanks to the gambling industry, one million euros in 2018 alone were provided for the Agency of Youth and Sport.

“According to existing legislature, all games of chance which include sports betting houses, are regulated by the Law on Games of Chance and Entertainment Games. I’m trying to point out that we, as sports betting houses, fully respect the law, and we are ready to cooperate with the system’s institutions, to give our own suggestions for improving legal solutions, and even implement a stricter regulation system and higher fines for breaking the rules.

Our goal is to implement the highest standard in games of chance which will improve the industry, as well as higher control and removal of all possible work irregularities,” Ilijeski says.

ASOM is a NGO, non-profit and independent association formed in 2013. It is consisted of Sport Life, Mozart, Euro Tip, Zlatna Kopachka and Marbet betting houses.

One casino license alone brings EUR 600,000 to the state

The state gains EUR 600,000 from one casino license alone, whereas one slot machine license contributes EUR 80-100,000. Additionally, winning taxes – 20% of the difference between the betting money and the won amount – fund the state budget as well.

According to the data available on the Ministry of Finance’s website, 25 casino licenses have been issued in our country. Ten of them are in Skopje, three in Kochani, Ohrid and Gevgelija, and one in Bogdanci, Prilep, Bitola and Gostivar.

One six-year license costs a one-time fee of EUR 78,570 as well as a special 20% fee of the difference between the betting money and the won amount from every club slot machine on a monthly level.

“Don’t Bet Your Life” – a project for raising public awareness about gambling addiction

As of July 2019, the Association of Social Workers of the City of Skopje has been actively working on raising public awareness about the severity of the issue of sports gambling and other games of chance. As part of the “Don’t Bet Your Life” campaign, a helpline has been set up to provide support for the people who deal with gambling addiction.

The Association tells MIA that they’ve had calls from multiple people who have recognized a gambling problem, whether in themselves or in a family member.

“One of the campaign goals in the part about promoting the helpline is that it’s open and available not only to addicts, but to their family members and friends as well, in order to help and prevent more severe consequences.

The helpline’s number is 072 809 809,” the Association says, adding that the project idea is to raise awareness about actions that people don’t always recognize as risky or impulsive, such as compulsive betting in sports matches and other games of chance.

“Our goal is for people to identify themselves with the campaign, to realize that when they recognize a moment of weakness or problem in themselves or someone else, there are quickly accessible experts who can help.

Raising awareness will decrease future addiction bets that are oftentimes the road to harming oneself and one’s closest people,” the Association continues.

Addiction to games of chance poses a serious issue when it stops only affecting the addict and starts affecting their friends and family, and jeopardize the family’s survival.

“Compulsive playing games of chance affects every segment of the addict’s life, including their work, career, family and friends. Games of chance are entertaining, but they can become a serious problem if one loses control over them,” the Association says.

Around 4,000 betting houses in Bosnia and Herzegovina, over 30,000registered gamblers in Serbia

In 2017, there were around 33,000 registered gamblers in Serbia according to the Batut Insitute of Public Health survey. One in four people between the ages of 18 to 26 has a gambling problem, BBC in Serbian reports.

A survey of  the Life is Not a Game center showed that 26% out of 720 survey participants in three elementary and three high schools in Novi Sad gamble, 6% of which are pathological gamblers. Half of gamblers have had their first contact with this vice between the ages of 10 and 14, most commonly in betting houses.

According to Bosnia and Herzegovina statistics, there are almost 50,000 pathological gamblers. Only 25 are getting treatment in an association for the fight against gambling addiction. On the other hand, there are around 4,000 betting houses in BiH, placing it among the first countries in the world in terms of betting houses per capita, N1 reports.

BiH  citizens have spent more than KM 1.7 billion in betting houses, according to the BiH Public Revenue Office. On the other hand, betting houses say that citizens have bet KM 200 million, generating KM 1.7 billion throughout yearly bets and winnings.

According to Marko Romić, member of the Gambling Addiction Center in Mostar, gamblers initially enter a betting house out of curiosity, but it becomes routine for some of them, so they start betting money several times a day.

He says that, after the first win, the money received from games of chance look like a good way to earn money, so an enchanted circle of problems is created once fun becomes addiction.

“There is a need for constant betting and gambling. It’s an obsession. It’s try after try to win back money you’ve lost. It’s a way to escape bigger problems. It’s asking for money in every possible way, through borrowing from friends, taking out loans, neglecting one’s obligations, etc.,” Romić tells N1.

Experts say that there is no system to regulate gambling because it doesn’t cost the state anything, in fact, the state profits from legal gambling. All lotteries are national because costs are low, and gains are high. This is why there is no unsuccessful lottery in the world.

Aleksandar Atanasov

Translator: Dragana Knežević

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