Mark Potter: Contemplating the immediate future

Mark Potter, Head of Safer Gambling at EPIC Risk Management, discusses his battle against gambling addiction, Sports Betting USA, Student-Athletes and avoiding the mistakes of the UK.

As I sit contemplating the immediate future, unsure of when the majority of us will be able to return to normality, whether that be returning to work, visiting family and friends, or getting back to the things that we enjoy and take for granted; I have been able to look back on my past. These unprecedented times have allowed me to reflect on old behaviors and the impact they previously would have had. A time like this would have been potentially destructive and dangerous for me as they could be for certain groups of people within our society. We must ensure we use this time effectively.

Having recently retired from competitive sport due to my age and serious injury and having spent a large majority of that time battling a pathological gambling disorder, I am only too aware the impact a time like this can bring. Boredom, isolation, time away from family, friends, colleagues, teammates and suffering from a lack of physical and mental stimulation can lead young sportsmen and women to seek alternative means of gratification, as I so often did.

Up until 2013, my gambling was out of control and I would almost certainly have used this time negatively, placing bet after bet, hoping that I could finally win enough money to solve my ever-growing mountain of problems. In reality, that big win never arrived, and it took over £3 million worth of bets, a court case and an attempted suicide before I finally reached out for help, for which I will be eternally grateful to the fantastic Sporting Chance Clinic.

Through intensive counseling and psychotherapy, I was able to better understand my triggers and the reasons for my gambling; this coupled with the unwavering support of family and friends, has allowed me to make a successful recovery. 7 years on, I am grateful that my role as Head of Safer Gambling at EPIC Risk Management, the world’s leading gambling harm minimization consultancy, has given me the platform to ensure others do not make the same mistakes that nearly cost me everything.

As a result of the success of our education and awareness programs across professional sport in the UK and throughout wider Europe, we now have the opportunity to replicate this in the USA. Over the next 2 years, in collaboration with the GVC Foundation US, a first-of-its-kind non-profit organization dedicated to promoting responsible gambling and sports integrity, we will be facilitating these programs across the USA, both within professional sport and in NCAA Colleges. Our sessions will educate professional and student-athletes about the potential risks and dangers of gambling harm and betting integrity.

At a time when sports betting is being legalized across many states in the USA, there will undoubtedly be significant sponsorships from gambling operators coming into sport of all levels. Given the current situation, most athletes will be on lockdown, under severe restrictions, or at the very least suffering from boredom and isolation. It is therefore imperative for them to better understand what this new world of sports betting and betting integrity brings. More importantly however, is the need to better understand the significant dangers that come hand in hand with this new legislation and to ensure they do not suffer the same fate as many young people and athletes have suffered in the UK. Simply put, if you allow gambling to get out of control, it is something that can and will cost you careers, relationships and even lives in the most extreme of cases.

For a young athlete in the USA that is taking the plunge into the world of sports betting, I would urge you to understand more about what you are getting into. It is important that you have an appreciation for what sports betting is and what it means, and especially what the risks are and what measures you can take to protect yourself from harm. As naturally competitive people, we crave the adrenaline rush and buzz that scoring a goal, touchdown, 3-pointer or home run gives us.

Ensuring that you do not chase what we currently cannot achieve through sport is essential. Using gambling as a medium to replicate those feelings during these uncertain times, as I would have done previously, is dangerous and never the solution.

In order to protect yourself from these risks and dangers, please set limits, both in terms of time and money, take regular breaks, do not chase losses or winnings and most importantly of all, never gamble more than you can realistically afford to lose. Gambling should never be used as a money-making activity and should only be used for fun and enjoyment. For too many years, I used gambling as a way of attempting to replicate the adrenaline rush of initial wins, or latterly as a form of escapism for things that were not going well in my personal life. I now understand that there was only ever going to be one outcome. Please do not make the same mistake.

This nascent time for the USA market, right at the start of its journey into sports betting, can take one of two routes. If we can ensure that safer gambling is endorsed to all players, customer protection is at the forefront of the minds of gambling operators and regulators ensure that legislation is fit for purpose, then We can create a solid foundation that supports a sustainable gaming industry.

The alternative route is not an attractive option for anyone.

Stay safe and more importantly, play safe.