My name is XXXXX and I am a compulsive gambler. It’s not always an easy term of description to call yourself, but after many years of problematic gambling, I now accept that’s what I am and, at some level, always will be. With a single voice I have quietly campaigned for changes to the current 1956 gambling legislation, predominately through twitter, submission of a document to the Department of Justice and through participation in a number of studies. It is a welcome development to see that other individuals and, indeed, other groups have taken up the gauntlet in an attempt to achieve change.
I started out gambling on video poker machines in my late teens through to my early twenties. At first, while it was somewhat problematic, it didn’t become a huge problem until I started working away from home and was using my own money. It got completely out of control and - hey presto - I was a gambling addict. While being compulsive, I was also impulsive - eventually having little regard for my most basic needs. Fortunately, I wasn’t married or didn’t have children, so the worst impact was on myself. This was compounded by the fact that, more often than not, I got paid on Thursday and hadn’t a penny left by Friday evening.
I eventually attended Gambler’s Anonymous and managed to stop gambling until early 1997, when one Sunday, while reading the Sunday World, a magazine promoting online poker fell out of the paper. I was immediately interested and couldn’t wait to set up an account on Paddy Power and started playing poker, which I had absolutely no experience of. I quickly maxed out one credit card and then another. Then I was borrowing money from the Credit Union to pay off the cards and quickly maxing out the cards again. This was having an impact on my marriage and children and eventually I lost everything - my wife, my children, my home, my way of life and my sanity. I have been in rehab twice and mostly have not lasted past six months abstention since then.
In more recent years I graduated to land based casinos, playing Blackjack and Roulette. I visited as often as I could, or as often as I had money. Being a compulsive gambler, I could never leave until I lost all my money - no win could ever be enough. It ended up, winning was only a means to allow me to gamble for longer. Bit by bit I self excluded myself from every Casino in Dublin. To be fair to the Casinos they check everyone entering the casino and if you have self excluded yourself they do not allow you to come in to the premises.
Following my casino experience, I moved to automated roulette tables which can be found in all the amusement arcades in Dublin. These machines, in my view, are equally as addictive as the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, to be found in bookies all over the UK. I have lost a fortune in these machines. The stakes allowed on the automated roulette tables go from €250 to €500, depending on the premises and the location. This is clearly in breach of the current legislation by a mile. It is not enforced and hasn’t been enforced for some time. Gambling regulation and fit for purpose legislation are not going to cure me, or thousands of other problem gamblers. What it will do is give us a chance to change our lives.
Gambling in Ireland is currently governed by the 1956 Gaming and Lotteries Act. Clearly gambling in 1956 was a completely different landscape to what now exists. It is now proposed to introduce some amendments to the the legislation before the end of the year but it falls long short of the Gambling Control Bill which is urgently needed and has been for many years. The new amendment brings a change in stake to €10.00 and a maximum payout of €750.00. While this is welcome, it still allows those machines to take €1200.00 per hour from a gambler.
Most establishments do not display any information on what a problem gambler can do if he or she is experiencing difficulties with managing the gambling. The amendment does not include any requirement on a gambling establishment to display this information. It is a minimum requirement. The new amendment does not include any obligation on a gambling establishment to provide any form of self exclusion - which is mission critical for any problem gambler attempting to limit their opportunities for gambling. Finally, the amendment does not close the loophole for private members clubs, and my belief is that this needs specific mention in the legislation, so that they are brought under the same legislation as any other gambling establishment and are subject to the same limitations and obligations. Overall, any amendment is welcome but we can’t wait another 61 years for fit for purpose legislation.
[Editor: We would like to thank the guest poster for this excellent insight. You can follow him on Twitter: @CompulsiveG
The proposed amendments to the 1956 Gaming & Lotteries Act can be found here (starting on page 82).
The original 1956 Act can be found here. ]
Gambling is something that is socially accepted in Ireland. People turn a blind eye to it and say: "what harm will it do?". I've worked in the betting industry, in total, on and off, for about 13 years.
When I started working in betting shops in the late 80's, betting shops were not what they are like today. Gambling was not sexy back then - smoke filled dingy little places where old men hung out, that was the perception.
Gambling was a problem then, with people addicted, but it's not anywhere on the scale it is today, with online gambling and smartphone gambling 24/7, you can now bet on anything you like in any country you like. Lottery is another form of gambling, but we call that harmless fun.
Having continued to work through the 90's in betting shops, changes were happening as the shops became more plush, but still nothing in comparison to today. I left the betting industry in 1998 and went back in 2010 - and what a difference in 12 years. They now opened 7 days a week and up until 9:30 pm, when evening racing was on (excluding Sundays) and with it came wall to wall betting opportunities. I left the business in 2011 and have never returned. Now they open all year round even if there is no evening racing.
In the year and a half that I was back working in it, something had changed for the worse. We were constantly told to get the punters to bet and bet and bet, with this special and that special. It was like a pub making sure the people drank and drank. Pressure is put on staff to maximize profits at the expense of the punter and if you don't play ball you are out the door. We were told to push virtual racing and lottery as everything is stacked in their favour.
Over the years I've seen people losing their wages, their dole and with wives or husbands coming into the shop looking for the money that their partner had blown. Seeing children shouting: "dad, dad, stop - mammy needs the money". But the betting industry don't care as long as the profits keep rising. The bigger the profit for the industry, means that lots of people are suffering.
As I said earlier, gambling today is a huge problem. You can now bet on your phone using invisible (or so it seems) money. The recent advertisement of Horse Racing Ireland is, for me, a disgrace - where they say: "go to the races - as nothing else feels like it". Children are allowed to gamble at the course on the tote. That should be illegal, as it get's them at an early age and that's what they want.*
The lottery is also dangerous and it's not fun. Try tell that to family who can't put food on the table because one of their parents has spent all of their money on scratch cards.
The legislation of gambling in this country is weak, to say the least, as the industry is given a free hand. I've seen first hand what gambling does to people's lives and the sooner we wake up and see the destruction gambling does, the better.
[We would like to thank the author for this powerful account of life behind the bookmaker's counter. The author has asked to remain anonymous. We have confirmed that the author worked in the gambling industry during the periods referred to in this post]
*Editor's note: Legislation is due to be enacted this year, to end the practice of people under the age of 18 being able to bet at the Tote. At the time of writing, children from the age of 7 are permitted to place bets at state-funded race courses.
Friday 10th Feb 2017: Problem Gambling Ireland CEO & Founder, Barry Grant speaks to Joe about the fact that Ireland is 3rd in the world for gambling losses. Callers discuss the fact that some pubs are taking bets and phoning them in to bookmakers (probably illegally). More on the direct communications and up-selling of National Lottery products, which appears to be in breach of the licence regulations.
Listen here: http://rte.ie/r.html?rii=b9_21129305_53_10-02-2017_
Thursday 9th Feb 2017: More listeners tell Joe that they are asked if they want to buy a lottery ticket when they buy petrol from Topaz. - Mark is a former gambler. He talks about how he quit.
Listen here: http://rte.ie/r.html?rii=b9_21128596_53_09-02-2017_
Wednesday 8th Feb 2017: Gambling has taken its toll on Tommy and Kevin but they are in recovery. Denis is, to all intents and purposes, a professional gambler.
Listen here: http://rte.ie/r.html?rii=b9_21127795_53_08-02-2017_
Tuesday 7th Feb 2017: Stories of gambling addiction and recovery.
Listen here: http://rte.ie/r.html?rii=b9_21127097_53_07-02-2017_
Monday 6th February 2017: Patricia rang Liveline when she found out that her 15-year-old son had lied about his age in order to set up an online betting account. This prompted callers from around the country to share their experiences of gambling addiction.
Listen here: http://rte.ie/r.html?rii=b9_21126459_53_06-02-2017_
It seems fair to say that we live in interesting times. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail's "love that dare not speak its name" has finally come to fruition; a serial-bankrupt, day-glo builder has been selected to rule the world; and a sports-show, funded by a betting firm, discusses gambling addiction three times over the course of one week. If you've been preparing for The Rapture, it's probably time to put on your Sunday best.
The sports-show in question is Newstalk's highly-popular Off The Ball. Last Sunday (27th November), they began their series of discussions with Declan Lynch. Declan had written an article in that day's Irish Independent, entitled: "Is it the right time to derail our gambling supertrain?" Declan has long been at the forefront of raising awareness around gambling addiciton in Ireland and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to highlighting some of the questionable practices of the gambling industry.
At the time, I thought that this was a brave, if somewhat tokenistic move, on the part of the show's producers. Imagine my surprise when, just a few days later (1st December), Ger Gilroy interviewed recovering gambling addict and Tyrone footballer, Cathal McCarron, on the same show. Ger begins by saying: "I think that it's incredibly important that we talk about gambling addiction and about the industry, as well, particularly as, in the sports media, we have a very close relationship with the betting industry and sometimes that can be uncomfortable for us. On a personal level I have seen the devastation that gambling has wreaked on families and on careers." Ger goes on to show himself to be sensitive to, and knowledgable about, the harm caused by gambling addiction.
Just when I was beginning to think that Christmas had come early - ALL of my Christmases came together. This manifested itself in the form of a third discussion on gambling addiction on yesterday's show (3rd December). The panel discussion included Declan Lynch, as well as addiction treatment specialist, Dr Garrett McGovern and recovering substance addict and poker afficionado, John Leonard (AKA, Sober Paddy). The discussion was wide-ranging, intelligent and nuanced. They covered everything from harm-prevention and harm-reduction to the pros and cons of the 12-step treatment model, gambling advertising and the "gamblification" of sport and the sports media. [By "gamblification", I mean the process by which the gambling industry has embedded itself into sporting bodies and media organisations by getting them hooked on their cold, hard cash.]
By the end of the week, I had to take a long, hard look at myself. This no longer looked, sounded or smelled like tokenistic box-ticking from Off The Ball. In fact, this had the whiff of a group of people who might actually genuinely care about the harm that is caused by gambling in this country, while also struggling with the fact that they (and many of their colleagues) are overly-dependent on gambling industry funding.
As an addiction counsellor, I am always looking out for dysfunctional "Black & White Thinking" in my clients. This sort of binary thinking is often a strong indicator of the type of cognitive distortions which can lead to addictions and other issues. "Life is lived in the Grey", I can hear myself saying, over and over again. However, when seeing the harm caused by gambling and other addictions on a regular basis, it can be easy to slip into a Good Guys vs Bad Guys mindset - or, in other words: "If you're not with us, you're agin' us!".
As I work through my own internal conflict on this one, I have to commend Ger Gilroy and the rest of the Off The Ball team on grappling with the Horns of their own Dilemma. It can't be easy to watch the increasing harm caused by gambling in Irish society, while at the same time deal with the financial realities of commercial radio. At least by acknowledging that the "close relationship" can be "uncomfortable" for them, they, to my mind, are making a step in the right direction. As workers in the addiction field will often tell you, "The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem".
Discussion on gambling starts around half-way through the clip.
Barry Grant has been awarded a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Elevator award at
the ceremony on Tuesday, the 11th October. Barry Grant’s organisation, Problem Gambling Ireland
focusses on raising public awareness of gambling addiction as an escalating public health issue.
They provide online resources, pay-what-you-want counselling services and gambling-harm
prevention workshops. The prize consists of €30,000 in funding to expand and grow the business.
A further five organisations also received this funding and support in the Elevator Award category.
They were Sam Synnott and Judith Ashton from Buddy Bench Ireland, Alex Cooney and Cliona
Curley from Cyber Safe Ireland, Shane McKenna and Killian Redmond from Dabbledoo Music, Noelle
Daly and Stephen Cluskey from Mobility Mojo and Francis Cleary from Step Out Ireland.
Through this awards ceremony, three social entrepreneurs have each been awarded funding and
support worth €140,000. Lakers, A Lust for Life and Recreate were chosen for this highest level
Speaking about the award, Barry Grant said; ‘Winning a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Elevator Award
means a huge amount to me, personally, and to Problem Gambling Ireland, as an organisation. It
has shown me that there are experts in the field of social enterprise who believe we have the
capacity to make a positive impact on Irish society and to scale our service nationally.’
Over the last twelve years, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland has invested over €6.7 million in social
entrepreneurs and 1,230 employment opportunities have been created in the process. This
programme is sponsored by Irish company DCC plc, who have been the flagship sponsor of the
Awards for the last six years and earlier this year pledged its commitment to Social Entrepreneurs
Ireland until 2019, continuing its financial support with a further €700,000 in funding over this
CEO of DCC Tommy Breen said “DCC is proud to be a long term sponsor of the Social Entrepreneurs
Ireland Elevator and Impact Award programmes. It is a great privilege to play a role in getting
behind Ireland’s brightest and most ambitious entrepreneurs working to have a positive impact on
Darren Ryan CEO of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland said “Social entrepreneurs are problem solvers.
Whenever the current system is too slow, inadequate or missing, a social entrepreneur will roll up
their sleeves and take action. The social entrepreneurs awarded today are all pioneering new
solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges. With the ongoing commitment of DCC plc, we will
back these entrepreneurs to take risks and be brave in pursuing ideas to solve Ireland’s social
The awards ceremony, which took place in the Mansion House, Dublin, was hosted by Joan
Freeman, the founder of Pieta House, and John Evoy, the founder of the Irish Men’s Sheds
Association, who are both former recipients of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards.
They say knowledge is power, and a lack of psychology knowledge is one reason people can feel so
powerless in the fight against addiction.
Gambling Disorder was included for the first time in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Since the release of the DSM-5 in 2013, gambling disorder
(also called problem gambling or gambling addiction) has received increased attention by psychology
Here are five recent findings that can help empower people who struggle with problem gambling.
1.Gambling Addiction Affects the Brain Like a Drug
It was once believed that gambling addiction was primarily a matter of impulse control, and caused
neurological changes similar to disorders like OCD. However, recent research supports a model of
gambling addiction as more similar to substance abuse – as though gambling were an actual drug.
Using this model of gambling addiction, scientists have found numerous parallels between gambling
addiction and substance abuse. An article published by Scientific American reveals that gamblers and
drug addicts share many underlying genetic predispositions for impulsive and reward seeking
Also, both gambling and drug addiction can directly cause the brain to produce less dopamine and
fire fewer electrical signals during a high, causing addicts to seek greater gambling risks or increased
2.Women Perceive Gambling Differently Than Men
While there is no doubt that gambling addiction causes physical changes to the body and brain, it is
easy to ignore social forces that contribute to the development of problem gambling.
Recent social psychology research supported the idea that women are generally more aware than
men of the negative social consequences of gambling, and thus more likely to stop a gambling
episode before problems arise. This finding may partially explain why female addicts generally begin
gambling in their 30s, whereas men are more likely to begin in adolescence.
3.Nearly Winning Reinforces Gambling Addiction
A recent article in the journal Neuropsychophramacology showed that almost winning can foster an
illusion of control that drives further gambling. The researchers showed that gambling addicts also
demonstrate increased neurochemical response in the ventral striatum – part of the reward pathway
of the brain – when they experience a near win.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), often used for drug addicts, is frequently prescribed to problem
gamblers to combat the influence of the near win. Using CBT, gambling addicts learn to confront the
“Gambler’s Fallacy” that nearly winning indicates they are about to win, and means they should
continue to gamble.
4.Gambling Behaviour Changes Based On Your Mood
Participants in this study performed a task designed to simulate the experience of gambling.
Participants were first given €2000 of play money to gamble with. In order to succeed in the task,
participants had to make gut-level decisions on whether to take cards from one deck or another.
The researchers found that after losing money, participants who were in a bad mood were less able
to make decisions based on their gut feelings, and ended up losing even more money.
The researchers then repeated the study, this time manipulating mood. Participants watched either a
funny video clip from The Muppet Show, or a sad scene from Schindler’s List. The Schindler’s List
group lost more money than those who had watched the Muppets.
These experiments support the idea that being in a bad mood or experiencing something that puts
you in a bad mood while gambling can significantly impair your ability to make healthy decisions
about how much gambling to do, and when to stop.
5.Being Physically Motionless Can Help You Stop Gambling
Researchers have also taken an interest in effective strategies for controlling gambling behaviour. A
study published last year supported the idea that there is a motor component of compulsive
gambling. Anyone who has gambled is familiar with the physical urge to reach out one’s hand and
pull the slot machine lever or to click the “Deal” button in an online poker app.
Researchers demonstrated that introducing a “stop” signal, in which gamblers simply force
themselves to be physically still, can reduce the urge to continue gambling and lead to improved
outcomes of a gambling episode.
Gambling addiction is a serious problem, and increasing in prevalence in the UK, the United States,
and throughout the world. Psychology researchers are answering the call, and adding to our
understanding of how gambling addiction works.
By increasing knowledge and awareness, we can combat gambling addiction and help empower
people everywhere struggling with gambling disorder.
Marcus regularly blogs at psysci.co a psychology, science and health blog that examines the latest
research and explains how findings can impact and help individuals everyday lives.
Really excellent article from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It defines gambling addiction (pathological gambling/gambling disorder) as well as looking at screening (diagnostic) tools, treatment options and prevention. Definitely worth a read (6 pages, PDF). You can download it here.
We are currently seeking participants for a gambling addiction support group, which will be delivered as an online service. The group will be run on a pilot basis in order to assess the demand for this type of service, as well as its effectiveness. We will initially be looking for 7 participants who feel that their gambling is at a problematic level. The group will be facilitated by me (Barry Grant). I am a qualified addiction counsellor (B.A. Degree in Counselling Skills & Addiction Studies) and a fully accredited member of the Association of Professional Counsellors & Psychotherapists in Ireland (APCP). I am also a qualified SMART Recovery group facilitator.
Participants will need access to a computer, or internet-enabled device (smartphone/tablet) and an internet connection. We plan to run the group on Friday evenings. The meetings will be hosted on this site: https://appear.in/pgimeeting The meeting room is currently 'locked' and will only be open 5 minutes prior to agreed meeting times. The online meeting can be accessed through a web-browser (Chrome or Firefox) or by using the appear.in app, which is available for from the Apple App Store (iPhone/iPad) and from the Google Play Store (Android). Participants can join the meeting anonymously and have the option of communicating via voice, voice & video and/or web-chat.
If you are interested in joining this meeting, please fill out our contact form. This can be done anonymously, however we will need an email address or mobile phone number which we can contact you at in order to let you know when the meetings will begin. We will only ever use your contact details in order to let you know about the first meeting.
Participants will need to be aged 18, or over, and be resident in the Republic of Ireland. This service will be provided free of charge. The meetings will be 90 minutes in duration. The meetings will be operated on a CBT model (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).
If you have any questions, please fill out the contact form or email: info [at] problemgambling.ie
If you could share this post on social media, it would be greatly appreciated.
Barry Grant - Founder - Problem Gambling Ireland
It's that time of year again. Silly Season for gambling. In case you've been living in a cave with no radio, TV or broadband coverage - the Cheltenham Festival 2016 begins next week. What many consider to be the highlight of the horse-racing year on these islands, runs over 4 days (Tuesday to Friday). Despite it being a UK fixture, Cheltenham holds a special place in the hearts of Irish enthusiasts. In fact, its appeal goes far beyond the limits of regular punters and the festival manages to inspire many, who would not bet on horse-racing from one end of the year to the other, to have a 'flutter'. Offices, factories and other workplaces are a-buzz with tips and talk of the winners and losers. This fascination is reflected in (and/or encouraged by) the media. It is practically impossible to listen to any radio station, read a newspaper or watch the TV without hearing talk of gambling. This, of course, is not so strange, considering that horse-racing and betting have been intertwined since time immemorial.
Unfortunately, for recovering gambling addicts (problem gamblers), this time of year is an absolute nightmare. If you don't believe me, try to spend one day between now and March 18th, avoiding all talk of Cheltenham. I'd be very interested to hear how you get on.
In my time working with problem gamblers, they have almost uniformly expressed a sense of impending dread and fear in advance of the Cheltenham Festival. The 'triggers' to relapse (or 'lapse' or 'slip'), which most people in recovery from addictions try so hard to avoid, are omni-present. Short of booking a trip to Ireland's Most Remote Cave, it is practically impossible to avoid hearing constant talk of gambling. And as if that weren't bad enough, bookmakers heavily promote 'Free Bets' of up to €30 for new customers. For some problem gamblers in recovery, these sorts of enticements are the equivalent of a drug dealer putting a bag of heroin through a recovering addict's letterbox.
So, if you are a problem gambler in recovery, what should you do over the coming week?
Here are some suggestions:
Remember, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to recovery. Your recovery journey will be as unique as you are - regardless of whether you are following the 12 Steps, in counselling or 'going it alone'. Do what works for you. Make healthy choices and reap the rewards.
Yesterday, it was widely reported that the international gambling operator, Paddy Power, was found, by the UK Gambling Commission, to have "encouraged a problem gambler (called 'Customer A') to keep betting until he lost five jobs, his home and access to his children". Many, who have an interest in the gambling addiction field, would not be surprised by this. What is surprising about this story is the fact that staff actually raised concerns about the problem gambler's situation, as he was working 5 jobs, but had "no money". For some readers, this may seem like basic common decency - like the bartender telling you when you've had enough. However, some weeks later, when the betting shop manager informed a more senior member of staff that the problem gambler in question would be visiting the shop less frequently, they were advised: “steps should be taken to try to increase Customer A’s visits and time spent in the gambling premises”.
This type of sharp practice is "grossly at odds with the licensing objective of preventing vulnerable people from being exploited by gambling", according to the UK Gambling Commission. Unfortunately, in my time counselling problem gamblers, I have been told, time and time again, that this type of practice occurs across the board with all gambling operators in Ireland. Enticements are offered to gamblers who are clearly in active addiction - which is not strange, considering that in most jurisdictions, at least 35% of gambling industry profits are made from problem gamblers (data for Ireland is not currently available).
In fact, a gambler is far more likely to be barred from a gambling establishment if they are winning regularly than if they are losing every penny they have - potentially leaving themselves and their families destitute.
Customer A was only advised to seek help for gambling addiction in August 2014, when a Paddy Power staff member met him on the street and learned that he had lost all of his jobs, was homeless and had lost access to his children.
The "responsible gambling" page of Paddy Power's website states: "We believe in fair play – not just for customers enjoying a bet, but in everything we do – and our practices are among the most responsible in the industry. We know that some people have problems with gambling, and we recognise that they need education, treatment, and support. All of our customer service agents are certified by GamCare and undergo regular GamCare training to ensure they offer the most professional service possible to those who might be suffering from a problem with gambling."
I do not want it to seem like I am on a crusade against Paddy Power. This type of immoral, unethical practice exists across the gambling industry. A brief look at the William Hill Staff Handbook (below), shows the typical attitude.
Regulation of the gambling industry is the only approach with any hope of having an impact on these utterly parasitic and predatory practices. Gambling operators consistently prey on vulnerable addicts, with little or no concern for their welfare or that of their children and other dependents.
I urge the new government to enact the Gambling Control Bill as soon as humanly possible.
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor, Founder.