As the FIFA World Cup kicked off in Qatar, the weather is good for sports betting. The National Gaming Authority forecasts 530 million euros in bets on the Internet, i.e. 70% more than in 2018. But playing involves risks, especially in Seine-Saint-Denis, where betting weakens many precarious young people .
In the youngest and poorest department of metropolitan France, advertisements for sports betting operators regularly appear on bus shelters and in metro stations. In Seine-Saint-Denis, the players reflect the population: urban, often precarious, and young. 69% of them are under the age of 35, according to the National Gaming Authority (ANJ), the regulatory body for gambling created in 2020 by the French state.
Axel is one of them: like a third of young people between the ages of 15 and 17, he was underage when he first walked into a café and asked someone to bet for him, while this was theoretically forbidden to him.
Now 22 years old, this young man who works in the building “played a lot” last year. “I started by winning a large sum by betting on a match: 2,000 euros”, he confides, from Montreuil (93). “So I thought I could supplement my salary by betting.”
“I bet 100 euros every day”
Every day, before and after his day on the construction sites, Axel scours the Internet, finds out about the matches, the odds and the players to plan his bets for the next day. He bets every day, thinks about it as soon as he wakes up, he says. “It took me too much time, I spent my free time there, I bet 100 euros every day,” he admits. “To me, that’s a lot of money.”
For a year, the young man jumped from Winamax to Betclic, the sports betting applications installed on his mobile phone. “At first it balanced out, but I started to chain losses. I was trying to keep the 2,000 euros in mind. I was calculating not to go too far. That’s why I calmed down In the end, I think the game gave me practically nothing.”
Burned, however, he continues to play, “Once a month, for fun”, even if, paradoxically, he loses most of the time. “I’ve loved football since I was little, and the matches have more intensity when you’ve bet. There’s something at stake, it’s more exciting.” If Axel stopped in time, a quarter of young players end up switching to a problematic practice, selling items or borrowing money, according to a study by the ANJ.
A prevention space for young people
Well aware of the problem, Seine-Saint-Denis is trying to warn its young people of the dangers of sports betting. On November 14, the department launched an innovative prevention campaign, using the urban codes used by sports betting operators. The system is also based on a space intended for young people. At the Rosny 2 shopping center, the “Tête à Tête” team collects the words of 13-25 year olds and guides them as best as possible according to their profile.
For a year, educators have been warning about a need for prevention in terms of gambling. “Young people have started to talk about sports betting on a regular basis with their educators”, explains Evelyne Dorvillius, director of the reception area. “Sports betting, which did not exist at our level four or five years ago, is now very common. Young people are not necessarily addicted, but we observe a lot of risky practices.”
It is indeed easy to switch from an excessive recreational practice, even to addiction, explains the psychiatrist Marc Valleur, former chief physician of the Marmottan hospital (Paris 17th), specializing in addictions without substances, such as that induced by gambling.
A false sense of expertise
“You just have to slip up for a few weeks to find yourself over-indebted, and a lot of players find themselves very isolated, depressed, even suicidal,” he says. “Especially since sports bettors are often impulsive, they play for the love of risk and thrills. This practice ticks all the boxes of addictive gambling: it is possible to play it very often and the game gives the feeling that mastery is possible.”
Many players have an illusion of control and expertise, which contributes to their addiction. At the Marmottan hospital, consultations for the game have resumed with intensity since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic and the return of sports competitions. “Sports betting is flamboyant at the moment, observes Marc Valleur. Much more than poker or PMU, it’s really the category of games at the forefront since the end of confinement.”
The Football World Cup should not help matters: a third of French people intend to bet on the next matches, according to a Harris Interactive poll for the ANJ. “It is obvious that the periods of major competitions are very intense, the operators must hope that the French team goes as far as possible in the competition”, underlines Marc Valleur. “And this will affect a lot of young people, specifically in working-class neighborhoods.”
Social elevation through play, a myth exploited by advertising
Like Axel, many consider sports betting as a possible salary supplement, or even as an alternative to a professional career. A myth fueled by the advertisements of betting operators, which target precarious young people in working-class neighborhoods. They do not hesitate to use the codes of rap, video games and the suburbs in their campaigns, even if it means bordering on illegality.
“Ads sell dreams to young people,” denounces Indra Seebarun, of the association Addictions France. “With the aesthetics of advertisements and promotional offers, operators are exploiting the hope of winnings and dangling to young people the possibility of rising socially through betting, when it is impossible.”
An advertisement for the Winamax application, entitled “Tout pour la daronne”, was thus banned last March by the ANJ. The authority has indeed ruled that the campaign violates the limits set by a November 2020 decree, which prohibits giving a positive image of the game or suggesting that it contributes to social success.
The unprecedented measure, however, remains insufficient for the associations, which consider the existing legislation too easy to circumvent. Addictions France is thus calling for a Loi Evin du jeu, which would regulate advertising for sports betting in the manner of what exists for alcohol and tobacco.
“We no longer see advertising claiming ‘with alcohol, the party is crazier’, explains Indra Seebarun. “However, BetClic can display: ‘And sport is lived stronger’, as if football and betting were inseparable! We must legislate on the game, as on all addictive practices.
Losses estimated at 1.3 billion euros
On November 15, Stéphane Troussel, socialist president of Seine-Saint-Denis, wrote to parliamentarians to demand tougher legislation. “Addiction to sports betting is a public health problem. In 2021, bettors lost 1.3 billion euros in France. It is time to have legislation that protects people, the most precarious and the most young people, because the risks are considerable.”
Since the opening of sports betting to competition in 2010, many observers have denounced the “law of the jungle” which reigns in the sector. Many neighboring European countries seem to have understood this well: Spain, for example, only allows advertisements to be broadcast between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., while Italy has completely banned them. .
The comparison makes Stéphane Troussel fulminate: “Faced with these companies without faith or law, it is time for France to stop being the useful idiot of the betting market in Europe”, he insists, while the sector has grew by 44% between 2020 and 2021… and that BetClic, one of the largest betting operators, is an official partner of the French football team.