Gooch funds gambling awareness education for all counties
A contribution from Graham Gooch has helped the PCA fund gambling awareness courses at all 18 first-class counties.
Gooch, the former England captain, has run a scholarship scheme designed to encourage the development of young players for many years. It has, in the past, led to the likes of Alastair Cook spending time abroad to work on his game.
But this year, to mark their 50th anniversary, the PCA appealed to its members - both current and former professional cricketers - for extra contributions to help them increase their annual funding from £400,000 to £600,000. Gooch responded by offering £50,000 from his scholarship fund with the proviso that it would be used for a specific project rather than split across several. The PCA suggested the gambling awareness scheme and Gooch agreed.
"There are a lot of dangers in the world for young people now and I am particularly interested in helping out with the education of young cricketers with all the worries and concerns of online gambling and getting into bad habits," Gooch said. "If we can educate people, make them aware of the pitfalls and get insight from people who have been down that route and fallen foul then hopefully they can be warned about the potential dangers."
Gooch's donation helped the PCA fund not just courses - to be run by Paul Buck, whose gambling addiction resulted in a 32-month jail sentence of which he served 11-and-a-half months - but a helpline for those who feel they might be struggling with gambling addiction.
The statistics are alarming. Gambling is the fastest growing offence in the UK that leads to a prison sentence - 1,444 custodial years over the last five years - and the fastest-growing addiction both in the UK and across the world. A recent study from Lincoln University suggests there are 1.1 million gambling addicts in the UK. Bankruptcy, divorce, depression and suicide are all common consequences. Gambling addiction has also been reclassified to full addiction status, the same as heroin, by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
Professional cricketers, with time on their hands and a relatively large amount of expendable income at a young age, are considered a high-risk category. That means they - or the young male ones, at least - are considered three times more likely to be "problem gamblers" than people in the general population. With one in four males between the ages of 18 and 24 "likely to have some form of gambling problem" according to PCA chief executive, David Leatherdale, it is, as he says, "definitely an issue."
The world has changed a great deal in recent years. Not so long ago, sporting events were sponsored by tobacco companies - the John Player Special League was the NatWest T20 Blast of its day - and cigarettes were distributed free of charge in press boxes. In 1994, for a bit of fun, the Warwickshire committee made an accumulator bet on their team winning all four domestic trophies. They ended up with three.
Since those days, there has been a crackdown on tobacco advertising and some tightening of regulation as regards alcohol sponsorship and advertising, though the ECB retain several sponsorship deals with companies that sell alcohol. Most of all, there is greater awareness of the dangers of match-fixing and an absolute ban on players or officials betting on the sport.
But gambling advertising has filled the void left by the departure of tobacco sponsorship. It has grown by 1,300 percent over the last decade with the growth in the use of smart phones making it easier than ever before. According to statistical survey data, eighty-seven percent of first-class players in England have gambled on some other form of sport in the last 12-months and 67 percent in the last month.
Gambling is fully legal in the UK and there are no rules prohibiting cricketers from gambling on other sports. Buck says it is "normalised" to the extent that perimeter advertising at many sporting events offers in-game betting and, at a recent awareness session at a PCA rookie camp, 20 of 22 players admitted to having an online gambling account. It was the two who did not admit to having one that worried the people taking the session.
"Personally I have never been a gambler," Gooch continued. "But I do like going to a horse racing track and having a bet there. I've also hosted Ladbrokes in hospitality boxes at Test Matches so I don't have any issues with gambling.
"But sportsmen, in particular, do find themselves with time on their hands. When I played, people would go to a betting shop if they wanted to have a flutter. Now the temptation to bet online is great. In the social media world it's very easy to get into that. You have to be very careful that it doesn't consume you and cause major problems for you and your family down the line."
Both Buck and Leatherdale believe that cricket is "ahead of the game" in trying to prevent the problem growing. "Cricket is a long way ahead of the other sports we work with, football and rugby, in this regard," says Buck. They hope that by showing young players where uncontrolled gambling can lead, they can shock them out of potentially bad habits.
There will be practical help too. While no debts will be paid off, players will be given psychological help where appropriate and given assistance in restructuring their finances where possible. The key, though, is intervening before that stage is reached. And, thanks in part to Gooch, the PCA have a decent chance of achieving that aim.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo