Anton* was a high school junior in a private all-boys school when he first started gambling. What began as a P500-bet per NBA game eventually became a P25,000 wager. Soon, frequent bank trips made his family suspicious. It was only when he withdrew a whopping P300,000 that they realized he had a problem.
"The most popular forms of gambling are betting on NBA games or playing Texas Hold 'Em (poker). They usually start out casually, but some kids get really involved later on. They think it's a quick way to get a lot of money, but the truth is, you will inevitably lose," says Gino*, who started gambling in his sophomore year.
Gambling losses range from the tolerable (P500) to the devastating. Nina*, whose brother was hooked on gambling, shares, "I know someone who sold their F150 just to pay off gambling debts. He told his dad that the car was stolen pero nasa classmate lang pala niya."
"A friend who lost P300,000 followed the 'double-up' principle," says Niko*, who has lots of friends who gamble. "For example, if you lose P10,000 in one game, you bet P20,000 in the next. This principle counts on the fact that you are bound to win at some point. But if the bookie asks for the money, then you've got a problem."
Terms such as "bookie/bangka" (the one who collects bets), "fade" (the team to avoid, as in "Fade Miami"), "down" (you're on a losing streak and owe the bangka money), and "up" (you're winning) are just some of the terms used by players (the ones who place bets) in their gambling circles.
"I've come across kids as young as first-year high school who gamble regularly," says Gino. "The prevalence of NBA and poker on TV makes gambling easier. All you need is a little cash, a deck of cards, poker chips, and gambling buddies. Betting on odds is even easier—just get the number of a bookie, and text him your bets." For "betting on odds," the winner is determined based on the last scores of a game. Nina says, "Let's say a person bets a 10 point-difference in favor of a team. If the game ends at 90-80 in favor of his pick, he wins and gets the pot money."
Gino says that people who bet on NBA games usually know a thing or two about basketball. "The first few times, they bet 'wisely' and win a couple. Then when their winning streak extends, they get a sense of invincibility. When they lose, they think they can easily get it back. They become more reckless and bet larger amounts of money, trying to win back their losses. Sooner or later, they're in too deep and there's no way out."
"Private all-boys schools are notorious for gambling. Their students enjoy basketball and can afford to gamble," says Gino. Niko reveals a time when a high school friend of a PBL player "tipped" his fellow bettors to bet against the team of his friend. The team lost and they all won the bet. He adds, "Whether it's NBA, PBA, UAAP, or NCAA, these leagues are all being bet upon on every occasion."
Although the basketball craze has a tendency to hit males more than females, all-girls schools get involved in gambling too. Nina recalls the controversy involving a Chinese school a few years back, where two prominent families had a public brawl due to unpaid debts. She says that some of the boys' sisters from exclusive all-girls schools joined in the betting, too.
One Bet Too Many
Gino has a word of advice to those who would want to place bets. "The myth of gambling is that you can win and then stop. You have to be either really lucky or have a lot of self-control to do that. Gambling is addictive. You get a rush from it. One minute you're so high, then you come crashing down when you lose."
Research has proven that many behaviors can become as chemically addictive as a substance, and gambling is one of them. Addictive or pathological gambling causes disruptions in any major area of life and is sometimes called "hidden illness" because there are no visible physical symptoms. The American Psychological Association classifies compulsive gambling as a mental health disorder of impulse control, but it is diagnosable and treatable. Compulsive gambling can be rooted in the addiction to the thrill of risk-taking, or a need to blot out emotional pain. Teens are about three times more likely to become pathological gamblers than adults, which is why it's crucial to identify the disorder while it is still in the early phases.
"You can never really win. Even if you're the luckiest gambler, you will eventually lose," shares Gino. Aside from lost study time, Gino stopped enjoying NBA games altogether. "Every point made was important because I was chasing a set margin or difference between scores. It was more of relief than happiness when I won."
According to Anton, it's easy to back out of their gambling "loop." "If you lose, you just stop betting. But you can't leave without paying the other players because there's a bigger syndicate that will hunt you down if you owe them money. There are even parents and politicians involved."
Gino advises that if anyone wants to back out, they should just erase the bookers' numbers from their phone after paying outstanding debts. "You really can't stop by lessening it. If you want to stop, you have to do it cold turkey."
If, for some reason, you can't back out (maybe because you can't pay), you have to make some sort of arrangement with the dealer. Some sell stuff they own, like what Nina's friend did. "I know of some people who held garage sales just to pay debts. If they can't stop simply because they are addicted, then they have to seek help."
*Names have been changed to protect individuals.