The Army’s Dark Relationship With Problem Gambling
Life in the army can be a physical and psychological rollercoaster. Soldiers are forced to mix intensely harrowing experiences out in the field with hours of monotonous boredom while they wait on standby.
It goes without saying that army recruits need recreational activities to pass the time away during those mundane spells of waiting. That’s where gambling often comes in. In fact, the armed forces and gambling have a surprisingly dark relationship with each other.
The Ultimate Temptation
One of the most popular activities that soldiers use to relax and forget their problems is gambling.
It’s easily accessible too. Slot machines are present in the junior rank halls and fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) are also commonly found in army barracks. It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s already been clearly established that gamblers can easily bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on FOBT’s. The machines were also famously nick-named the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ by the co-founder of one of the UK’s biggest betting firms, Paddy Power.
Throw into the mix the growth of mobile gambling and it is hard to escape the temptation of gambling when you’re in the military.
The appeal of gambling is boosted by the camaraderie that’s common within barracks. It’s seen as not only a fun recreation but a social one too.
Gambling isn’t even just limited to machines or the internet. Real life old-school card games are also there as a way for soldiers to interact with one another and strengthen their bonds.
A game of Texas Hold’em or a wager on who will perform best on a training drill is standard procedure.
Is It Legal?
There have been suggestions that gambling should be banned within the army. The argument has been fuelled by repeated evidence that there is a link between gambling addiction and army personnel.
However, an extract from the US Air Force publication Hilltop Times states, “While on government-owned or leased property or on duty for the government, an employee shall not conduct or participate in any gambling activity, including conducting a lottery or pool, (or) participating in a game for money or property.”
This brings into question the presence of slot machines and gambling activity within army barracks. Should they be present? Can it be regulated?
In the UK, the Minister of Defence has come under scrutiny for placing FOBTs in barracks. Even though the Queen’s Regulations state that “all forms of gambling and bookmaking are forbidden within units”, the MoD considers slot machines and FOBTs to simply be amusements with prizes.
It does open up a can of worms. Slot machines have been present within military bases since the 1930s. They were eradicated from Army and Air Force bases during the 1970s but remained in Navy bases and eventually were re-introduced in the 1980s.
There are now estimated to be over 5,000 slot machines in 100 US overseas military bases.
Why Is It Still Allowed?
The argument for allowing gambling on military bases is that it generates large amounts of revenue that the gambling firms share with the military.
Gambling by military personnel creates up to $150 million in revenue each year in the USA. The National Council on Problem Gambling confirmed that Army bingo alone accounts for $45 million of revenue each year.
There has been speculation that army regiments place bets amongst each other to see which regiment performs the best. Betting and gambling has also been seen as a crucial part of keeping morale high within regiments when the tough times of combat take hold.
Breaking the spirit of the personnel is seen as a major problem that should be avoided at all costs. So, for many within the military hierarchy, keeping gambling going in the army is a vital element of maintaining high morale amongst the troops.
For now, the negative effects are certainly seen as a price worth paying.
Dealing with Problem Gambling
Gambling can become a problem for those in the military and veterans that have served in the army. The exposure to gambling can prove so great that individuals can become reliant on it. The reasons from this can range from curing boredom to dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some individuals struggle to cope with civilian life after serving in the army. They use gambling to deliver that kick of adrenaline that they miss when they’re no longer active in the field. For others, it is simply used as a form of escapism to help stop their mind from focusing on remembering the horrors they witnessed during combat.
Organisations are now offering services to help those that currently serve and have served in the army. These services help them to address their gambling addiction.
In the US alone it is estimated by the National Council on Problem Gambling that between 36,000 and 48,000 active military personnel suffer from a gambling disorder. In the UK, the Royal British Legion also offers help to veterans who wish to deal with their gambling addiction too.
So, is there a gambling problem within the US and UK military? It certainly seems that those that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder are more vulnerable to becoming addicted to gambling.
Personnel within the army are also generally considered to be Type A personalities who have a desire for risk and adventure. Despite the fact that gambling and the army appear to have developed a highly toxic relationship with multiple negative effects, too many companies currently benefit from the pros. For now, the cons are being left unaddressed.