“I locked myself in there: I went into debt, I smoked everything I had,” says Paul-Olivier, a 29-year-old former bettor.

The young man, who does not wish to make his surname public, experienced a “descent into hell” which saw him bet up to 10,000 euros on football matches.

“My brain was always thinking that I could win, not that I could lose,” he says. “I woke up, I thought about that, I went to bed, I thought about that, I withdrew into myself and I no longer saw my friends.”

The former punter, who is now weaned but still feels a “sword of Damocles”, experienced two classic elements of addiction.

He had to constantly increase the dose, going so far as to bet on distant championships like in Kazakhstan. And he hid his situation for a long time from those close to him, despite an untenable financial situation by dint of opening bank loans.

His story is not an isolated case. Addiction to sports betting is now widespread enough for health authorities to take action.

– How many addicts? –

The Public Health Agency France has just launched a campaign aimed at the general public, the first on this theme in France – the Anglo-Saxon countries being exposed to this problem for a long time.

“Particularly addictive, these bets can have significant consequences on the health and social situation of the players who practice them and those around them,” the agency warned this week in a press release.

The campaign shortly precedes the Football World Cup, an occasion long awaited by online betting giants, including Française des jeux, Winamax and Betclic.

But the operation is part of a larger context. In recent years, the online betting market has taken off. Last year, in France, its turnover almost jumped by half and some 4.5 million accounts were identified.

Even if a single player can hold several accounts, this figure, which continues to increase from one year to another, shows how much online betting affects a large proportion of French people, most often young people.

How many addicts among them? At present, the health authorities are not able to make an accurate count. But we can have an order of magnitude.

“Out of 100 sports bettors, around fifteen risk falling into a problematic practice”, estimates the agency, based on a survey carried out in 2019 on multiple health themes with a panel of around 10,000 French people.

– Unregulated advertisements –

In the field, caregivers are undoubtedly seeing a jump in consultations for this type of addiction.

“It has only been progressing since 2017, with an increase since confinement” in 2020, psychologist Thomas Gaon told AFP.

Mr. Gaon works at the Parisian hospital Marmottan, where he more widely receives patients suffering from addiction to gambling: casino, PMU, scratch tickets…

“These are the same springs: the invasion, the escalation, the problems of debts and lies”, underlines the psychologist.

But in online betting, “the medium changes the game by multiplying accessibility”, he explains, also underlining the “trivialization” of these bets with great reinforcement, in particular, of poorly regulated advertisements with regard to tobacco or the alcohol.

“There are more and more players, so more and more players who are getting sick,” he summarizes. “If there are a hundred people playing, one out of a hundred is negligible. If you have 10 million players, one out of a hundred is 100,000 people.”

And, warns the psychologist, it is difficult to predict who will be hit: “We cannot know who is vulnerable and who is not. It can affect everyone”.