Two years ago, the student community faced being targeted by the pay-day loan company, Wonga. In its attempts to woo students, we were told that Wonga was far superior to the loans we received from the Students Loan Company, despite the latter charging only 1.5% of interest per year compared to Wonga’s exorbitant 4,214%. In Wonga’s own words: ‘The problem with student loans is that they potentially encourage you to live beyond your means …Student loans are usually far cheaper than your standard personal loan. But there can be a downside – you potentially end up borrowing more than you need, while a nasty debt accumulates for your graduation that could take years to repay.’
And we as students told them in no uncertain terms to go Wonga themselves, with the National Union of Students describing the firm as ‘highly irresponsible’ for such ‘predatory marketing’. The Consumer Credit Counselling Service, a charity set up to provide debt advice to consumers, called the strategy ‘pretty cynical’. And indeed it was. Wonga had attempted to push a group already in a new territory of debt, with the increase of student tuition fees, even further into the debt abyss.
We found it vile that a company would attempt to profit off student loans, and we pushed back. Yet Wonga is only one of the examples where this has happened. Now, there is a new predator on campus.
Uni-Casino describes itself as ‘The number one Casino app for students!!’ according to their first ever tweet. They offer a lot to entice, including free starting funds and deposit bonuses if we put in more money, according to their Facebook page. The styling they use in their promotions are similar to that on many university hoodies, and they are frequently on the screens on Sub.TV in Locos and presumably other universities’ union bars as it targets exclusively students. If Wonga was so despicable to expand its market to students, shouldn’t we be as equally or further outraged that a company of vice now is targeting us exclusively?
I point them out not to be part of the nanny-state, as some would doubtlessly now be thinking. It’s not my mission to prevent students from participating in drinking, smoking, gambling or using pay-day loan companies. But when organisations that fit into any industry that needs a warning label begin to target a group that is the most susceptible, then such criticism is due. Not to mention the fact that there is not only a government website warning of the risks but also multiple charities set up to aid an increasing number of those who have fallen foul of them.
We are facing a growing epidemic of students falling further into debt due to gambling. It is estimated that around 127,000 young people have a problem when it comes to gambling and with the revisions to The Gambling Act, this is only going to worsen as advertisements can increase and memberships are no longer required. Just recently, an ex-Brunel student was charged of running a massive scam on migrants causing them to lose £113,000 to cover both his gambling losses of £12,000. This is not to say that gambling was the main cause of his behavior, but it was certainly a catalyst.
It is estimated that 20% of students now engage in gambling according to a survey conducted by Save the Student in 2013, in comparison to the 2% who admitted to using pay-day loan vendors. If we went up in such arms when Wonga attempted to flaunt its excruciatingly high loans on to students, then isn’t it time we did the same to a company that shamelessly targets us and us alone to become its gambling clients?
If you are concerned about the amount of time or money that you or someone you know is spending gambling, you can talk in confidence to a Gamcare adviser, by phone on: 0808 8020 133 (available to people living in England, Scotland and Wales).