There is an alarming rise of young people getting addicted to gambling
For quite some time, there has been a murmur about the scourge of gambling around the ongoing Indian Premier League, with a Bangla newspaper running a headline story about how the betting has turned into a pandemic of sorts among the youth.
But the actual depth of this aberration became quite clear when I attended several evening invitations recently.
On one occasion, one of the invited guests seemed very agitated as he was watching the live telecast of a match. Out of courtesy, I decided to ignore it at first.
But as moments passed, he became visibly irritated, losing interest in the sumptuous food which was being served. All the while, his eyes were glued to the TV screen and, at one point, I asked what was bothering him.
Coming out of his trance, he apologized and said that he had a large bet on one of the sides playing the game.
How large was it? Tk30,000. For a young person in his mid-20s, this is indeed a massive amount of money; to be honest, with the corona-induced financial morass, this is now a hefty sum for any person, even from an upper-middle class background.
To cut to the chase, he lost the bet and the money in the end, but I was determined to delve deeper into this rather peculiar social phenomenon and decided to talk to a some other young guys.
The betting is rampant
After talking to several people, it became clear that betting on sports is present in every layer of society, especially among the middle and lower-middle classes.
One regular gambler is a store manager and he told me that almost everyone working in his shop is linked to some form of betting surrounding IPL matches.
What is most disconcerting is the insidious entry of gambling among teenagers and college students.
Coming to my second experience, while visiting a relative one evening, I found his son, usually a vivacious, talkative person, sitting and watching an IPL match intently. His answers to questions were monosyllabic while his expression was overwrought.
As the match progressed, he became increasingly disturbed and, at one point, left the room. Later, I asked his parents if they had noticed the unusual behaviour in the teenager to which they responded: This is nothing; sometimes it gets worse.
The parents are worried but cannot say anything because of cases of suicide in the face of rebuke from parents or relatives over academic grades or other perceived social transgressions.
For the parents, this is indeed a dilemma.
What motivates the gambling?
The question that needs deeper analysis is the motivating factor behind gambling. In a predatory society where glory is pursued zealously and the path adopted to attain it never creates much of a headache, it’s only natural that quick ways to earn money will become popular.
The busting of large-scale swindles in recent times can give us an idea of how the lure of fast profit or swift success has turned into a social obsession.
From the overseas visa fraud to the marriage impostor luring victims with promises of prosperity in a first-world country, the irresistible attraction is of instant social elevation. In the same line, gambling is the chance to strike it big in one go.
The tendency to try our luck, despite the odds, motivates young men to sell their family assets, undertake perilous boat journeys on the high seas -- and it’s this desire to strike gold that fuels the gambling mania.
Unfortunately, the source of money is never under question in society as long as one possesses it. Now that the son of a lawmaker is in police custody for assaulting a naval officer, we are getting startling exposes on expropriation of land, large scale extortion operations, and so on.
But just a few weeks ago, the same lawmaker and his son were untouchables, moving about with impunity, people too scared to raise questions about the source of their rising wealth. Betting is human nature and saying that moral teachings can counter this is simply absurd. While the betting can add excitement and thrill, it should never lead to massive financial loss or prolonged mental stress.
Sport gambling in our times always included the loser treating the winner to lunch or Coke and snacks. “Coke baaji” is still prevalent and has a sense of guilt-free fun about it.
Regrettably, the rather harmless competitive mood has been overtaken by a very sinister phenomenon.
The truth is, if people decide to gamble, the law cannot do anything. Casinos can be sealed, but homes or some private corner with a few people gambling for money is impossible to stop.
At the heart of the ongoing IPL gambling is a mercenary social outlook which analyzes everything from the perspective of money. Parents and relatives may be worried, though I sometimes feel that the home atmosphere can still be the best place to inculcate a less materialistic outlook.
In a home where the main topic of discussion is mostly wealth and objects of material comfort, teenagers will inexorably be sucked into a vortex of greed.
Tackling the alarming rise of gambling may prove a challenging task though a cohesive social approach with the issue analyzed in detail by sociologists on TV can work as a palliative. Practically speaking, there is no panacea for this; we can only hope for a partial remedy.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.