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It’s a regular sight for anyone familiar with influencer advertising. Love Island star Sam Gowland, 24 - who has around 1.5 million followers across his social platforms - films himself bounding up the drive of his home surrounded by all his prize possessions. You might think years of reality TV and endorsements were behind Gowland’s net worth, but not according to the man himself.
“I’ve got my dream car, my dream house and this beauty today” – he points at a Porsche in his driveway – “all from a £25 investment,” he excitedly says as he walks into his house. “I cannot stress enough, if you want in guys, swipe on the link and get involved."
In the video which he uploaded to Snapchat last month, he brazenly states to his fans – many of whom may be underage, given almost 19 percent of Snapchat’s audience is 17 and under – that all his big ticket possessions were bought from winnings from following one £25 per month betting tipster, The Betting Man.
Gowland is not alone. A new grift that is happening on social media and involves influencers from shows like Love Island, Geordie Shore and TOWIE doing paid-for ads for betting tipsters for young fans. Scotty T from Geordie Shore and Mario Falcone from TOWIE have also uploaded more than one promotion for similar tipsters, this time, The Racing Guru, which offers horse racing tips.
Scotty T – who himself was declared bankrupt in 2019 – also previously advertised another tipping site, First Past The Post, earlier this year. Using his Instagram, he linked to messages reportedly from fans of the tipping site threatening to quit their jobs as they had apparently won so much money.
Once you’ve signed up to these sites, the tipster advises you what bets to place. But there is no limit to the number of bets the tipster can offer you or any guarantee you’ll ever win. In order to maximise your initial £25 monthly investment, you can then shovel money chasing these tip.
Not only is it a pretty unbelievable claim, it also crosses numerous Advertising Standards Agency rules on gambling, which instruct gambling companies cannot use anyone under 25 to advertise their products (Gowland is 24), or target young audiences, and also cannot show that gambling is financially profitable or that it enhances personal image or boosts self-esteem.
A spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council said: “This type of advertising is totally unacceptable and violates advertising regulations on content, including giving a false impression of financial success.”
If Ray Winstone or Peter Crouch – who ubiquitously feature in TV gambling ads – jumped around their own homes pointing at stuff the firm had “won” them, both of their betting companies would face multi-million pound fines and likely lose their gambling licenses.
But this advertising is lucrative for social media influencers. According to inzpire.me, an industry algorithm which works out how much much companies should pay influencers for posts, Gowland could ask for a fee of up to £4,000 for his post based on his number of followers and their active engagement. Using the same algorithm, Mario Falcone –1.1 million followers on Instagram – could command a fee of up to £3,600 per post and Scotty T – 2.7 million Insta followers – could ask for up to £6,900 per plug.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who heads up the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm, says social media adverts by high profile influencers are toxic for inexperienced gamblers.
“People who wouldn’t normally touch gambling see these people as aspirational and they want to emulate (them),” she says. “[Gowland] is saying, to over a million people, ‘This is how I made all my money’ and a lot of those that copy him won’t have the money to walk away if they lose and they will chase it. What these boys are doing is like pyramid sales – this guy is being paid at the top and other people at the bottom are losing out.
“Problem gambling is a huge contributor to suicide. They get so entrenched in gambling and can’t quit. I’ve seen too many parents crying over their child’s graves who have taken their lives.”
On their 2020 results so far, The Betting Man states they are up £755 for the year for those placing £10 stakes, i.e. you have to put £10 on every bet they suggest religiously. Other than screen grabs of WhatsApp testimonials and bets after they have landed, there isn’t any hard evidence of this. In the unlikely event of regularly winning tens of thousands, bookmakers reserve the right to restrict or even close accounts that become “too successful”, making it ever harder to reach life-changing scores.
Last month, Kenny Alexander, CEO of Ladbrokes and Coral said to a Parliamentary commission, “I don’t want to sugar coat it, 99 percent of those gamble will lose. If you are playing more, you are losing more.”
VICE approached Gowland’s agent and The Betting Man for comment on whether he did actually win all of this from just gambling, or if his appearances on TV and other promotions had anything to do with it but had no reply. Repeated requests to Scotty T and Mario Falcone’s agents also went unanswered.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, who now runs Clean Up Gambling, started gambling aged 16, wandering into betting shops to place bets on sports to add spice to his enjoyment of matches. By the age of 20, he had accelerated his interest to roulette and fixed-odds betting terminals, an addiction that led him to a debt of £20,000.
“Over a period of four years, any money I could get hold of through student loan, part-time jobs or earnings, I got into around £20,000 worth of debt by the age of 20. I wanted to kill myself. Thankfully, I got help and therapy and finished my degree.”
Clean Up Gambling has campaigned successfully for reducing the amount punters can put on certain types of betting. Zarb-Cousin says paid-for tipping sites are particularly dangerous as they encourage you to “back blind,” i.e. placing bets without thinking of wins or losses. “If you pay £25 a month for a tipping site. You have to then invest in every recommended bet in order to feel like you are getting the benefit of it. How many bets will that be? What if the first four or five lose? It compels you to gamble more on something you might not normally have done.”
Carolyn Harris discusses at length the number of cases she has seen which have ended in suicide. Around 500 gambling related suicides occur each year, including that of 25-year-old Jack Ritchie who had fought off gambling addiction more than once since developing the habit aged 17.
Ritchie had been clean for 18 months before his death, and died by suicide in Hanoi, Vietnam after spending a day gambling. “When he took his own life, he wasn’t that far in debt because of problem gambling, but he was so fearful of his addiction taking him back into terrible debt and controlling him that he killed himself,” says Harris.
Another, Christopher Bruney, 25, gambled £120,000 in the five days before he killed himself in 2017. The betting firm Playtech were fined £3.5 million for breaches of regulation in Bruney’s case, but was unable to pay it because it went bust. In both suicide cases, gambling firms are believed to have directly contacted the deceased with personal offers encouraging them to carry on betting in the days before their deaths.
Now, social media stars are doing the work for them, without any censure or fines. The latest Gambling Act 2005 existed in an analogue era where you had to physically dial a bookmaker or walk into a betting shop. No-one could imagine you’d be able to place bets on a phone or that betting would advertise so aggressively to young people like this.
“I want the government to speak to tipsters, addicts who’ve ended up in prison, academics, the medical profession,” says Harris. “The gambling industry which they perceive it to be is a completely different place from what they perceive it to be.”
If you suffer from a gambling problem, you can contact the National Gambling Helpline (0808 8020 133) or approach GamCare for free information, support and counselling in the UK.