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 a pastime which many Irish people enjoy. It is deeply ingrained in our culture. In fact, Ireland has the third-highest losses, per person, on gambling – in the world. While for the majority of people who gamble, it is a relatively harmless bit of fun, there are many who experience harm from gambling. Problem Gambling (Gambling Addiction) is estimated to affect up to 40,000 people in Ireland. For every person with a gambling problem, there are estimated to be a further 8-10 people affected, meaning that there could be up to 400,000 people in Ireland feeling the negative impact of gambling-related harm.
The types of harm a person with a gambling problem may experience are:
• Financial issues (debt)
• Relationship issues
• Mental Health issues (Anxiety, Depression, Stress)
• Deterioration in Physical Health
• Issues at college or work (loss of productivity, absenteeism, difficulty concentrating)
• Suicidal Thoughts
So, how can you tell if you (or a person you care about) are showing signs of problem gambling?
Recognising the problem in yourself:
If you answer ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, you may be developing a gambling problem. Do you:
• gamble alone and often?
• continue gambling longer than you intended?
• spend more time on gambling than other favourite pastimes or interests?
• gamble every last euro you have?
• think about gambling every day?
• try to win back money you have lost with more gambling?
• find it difficult to stop yourself spending too much?
• lie to friends and family members about your gambling and how much you have spent or do you just not tell them about it?
• sometimes reach the point where you no longer enjoy gambling?
• feel depressed because of gambling?
• have trouble sleeping?
• feel that gambling is having a negative effect on other areas of your life, such as family and work?
If you are concerned about your gambling and want to make some changes, then these suggestions may be useful:
• Break the silence and talk to someone you trust, a counsellor or attend a Gamblers Anonymous or SMART Recovery meeting. Keeping a gambling problem secret only makes it harder to bring about change. Talking to someone about it can help reduce the stress of a gambling problem and help you to do something about it.
• Avoid high-risk situations. These include any situations which you know can lead to gambling in a harmful way, such as having your ATM or credit cards with you when gambling, gambling on your own or mixing alcohol with gambling. You may want to avoid risky situations such as talking about gambling, carrying large amounts of money or socialising close to gambling venues. If you have online accounts, shut them down and ask to be excluded from the service.
• Challenge your gambling thoughts. It’s difficult to cut down or stop gambling if you believe that you can win and will come out in front. Remember: nobody ever gambled their way out of their gambling problem.
• Prepare for gambling urges. Urges to gamble are common for people trying to cut down or stop. Preparing yourself can help you cope. Think of times or situations that are likely to trigger urges and have plans for alternative activities that can help distract you.
• Find alternatives to gambling. It’s important to replace gambling with activities that you find satisfying. Finding a range of alternatives can help, such as sports, being with family members and friends, hobbies, and relaxation exercises (e.g. yoga or meditation).
• Reward your progress. There is a lot of guilt and shame associated with having a gambling problem. Acknowledge any progress you’ve made and reward yourself with a non-gambling treat – a nice meal, a movie or something else you enjoy.
Recognising the problem in others:
Here are some signs you can look for if you’re worried about a family member, friend or fellow student. People with a gambling problem have a preoccupation with gambling and may:
• want to borrow money to gamble or to cover debts
• have changes in their sleeping and eating habits
• start to miss college, work or other regular commitments
• express suicidal thoughts
• sometimes celebrate their ‘good fortune’ by gambling more.
If you are concerned about another person’s gambling, there is a simple, 2 question screening tool, which is an indicator that the person would need to undergo a more thorough gambling addiction assessment:
Q1: Have you ever felt the need to bet more and more money?
Q2: Have you ever had to lie to people important to you about how much you gambled?
(Answering “Yes” to one or more of these questions, strongly indicates that further assessment is necessary.)
Helping a friend or family member
If you think a friend or family member has a gambling problem, try to show your concern without lecturing or criticising. Your comments may be met with defensiveness and denial. Don’t take this personally, but let the person know you care and explain how his or her gambling behaviour affects you. You may have to clear boundaries with the person. Don’t be manipulated into excusing, justifying, overlooking, enabling or participating in the person’s destructive behaviour.
If the person agrees that he or she has a problem, here are some tips:
• Help the person make contact with organisations that can help, such as those listed at the end of this article.
• Be supportive and encouraging of the person’s attempts toward change, however small.
• Expect that there may be steps backward (“slips”/relapses) as a normal part of the recovery process.
• Encourage activities that are not associated with gambling and try to support the person by limiting or stopping your own gambling.
• Become informed by finding out more about problem gambling.
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.
The above topic is something that has been highlighted in the media in recent weeks. Is it an issue that has only recently come to fruition? – absolutely not. They say timing in life is everything and that is what led me to contact. Problem Gambling Ireland.
I will begin by introducing myself. My name is Justin and I have been in recovery for a gambling addiction since 03/03/15. Yes, that is my real name – honesty was one of the toughest lessons I have had to learn along the way. I have often searched online for various elements of support and have found them hard to come by. I felt I had reached a point in my recovery where I craved something different, something new. Counselling and regular attendance of Gamblers Anonymous meetings, alongside determination and a number of ‘white knuckle rides’ are what have led me to this point in my recovery. I like to read about ‘real life’ and current stories of how people are finding their recovery. Challenges that they are facing and more importantly how they are over coming these challenges. Reading a couple of the blog posts on this website gave me exactly what I needed. It is a mark of how recovery can change your life. Once upon a time, that insatiable craving was for the exciting and dangerous. Now it is to sit down and read about the exploits of others – it saves me a fortune! This blog post is not about me. This blog post is, as the title suggests, about the current issue regarding the effect of gambling on our youth. I will however draw on my previous experiences to highlight my unfortunate expertise in the area of problem gambling.
As mentioned above, recent news articles have highlighted the extremely loose regulation surrounding gambling on underage sports in Ireland. It was great to see our minister for Sport, Michael Ring publicly condemning the ‘loop hole’ that currently exists within legislation. He is a man that I bear no affiliation towards but I hope amongst hope that his strong words will be taken seriously. Unfortunately, but rather predictably, these comments were made on the back of a negative story which had appeared in the media shortly before that. This detailed the actions of a young inter-county footballer who had gambled on his own team to lose a match. Was this a shock? No. Was this the first time? Probably not. The fact is that most problem gamblers will bet on two flies walking up the wall. A certain bookmaker took this a step further a number of years ago by using that image in a marketing campaign. I am not here to blame bookmakers. Yes, I truly believe that they can do much, much more to shoulder responsibility of our current gambling epidemic in Ireland but more importantly, help to prevent it by acting in a more ethical way.
When I read the article regarding gambling on underage sports in Ireland it struck a chord with me. As a gambler, every now and then you have a good day. I used to think that a good day would be defined by the amount of money you won or the ‘touch’ you pulled off. As time went on, I learned that this was not necessarily always the case. As a gambler, I also recognise that my memory can be quite selective. I have forgotten many of the bad days – stealing from parents, friends and anyone that crossed my path. I remember one day very vividly. It was 17/03/2005. A number of weeks previous to this day, a group of us had placed (extremely small bets) on a school to win the Leinster Senior Cup at barely double digit odds. The final was to be played on St. Patrick’s Day and was being televised from what is currently the Aviva Stadium. The potential returns were very modest – not even stretching to a meal for 1 in the city centre. That wasn’t the point. At the time it never registered with me that we were in fact betting against our own team and I was playing in that competition. Now let’s be honest about it – we were not due to play the team in question and we most certainly were not going to make it anywhere near the final. The sun was out, it was St. Patrick’s Day, all of the lads were willing the result home. It was a bit of fun for everyone in the room except for me. I was 17 at the time, turning 18 two months later. I had been gambling in a very serious way since I was 15 – I was a seasoned pro. I should mention that the day that we had placed the bets, a number of us had piled into a local bookmaker’s in our school uniforms – nothing was said. We asked for odds on a schools competition – nothing was said. Would it have stopped us? No chance.
I work in a business that demands results. We have procedures and process’ in place to achieve these results. I am under no illusion that each and every betting shop in this country are under pressure from their respective companies to achieve business KPIs [Key Performance Indicators]. No doubt these include increasing footfall and driving turnover. Being turned away on the day was never going to happen. We were the future customers of that particular shop. In the end, I remained loyal to that shop for 8 years. I was destined to be a customer either way.
That was ten years ago and how things have changed since then. That group of 17 year olds no longer need to go to the hassle of leaving their seat to place that bet. They now have a betting terminal in their pocket. Online gambling has and continues to explode in popularity in Ireland. In a society where people crave to be accepted we tend to follow others rather than setting the pace. Many people can place a bet, enjoy it and leave it at that. I used to call them the lucky ones. Recovery has taught me that I have potential to be the ‘lucky one’ as long as continue I to learn and understand more about gambling addiction whilst always remaining bet free.
Rugby is the only sport that I have ever gambled on at an underage level. I am aware of GAA, Soccer & Tennis. I am sure that is the tip of the iceberg but I am not willing to visit certain websites to find out. A colleague recently told me that there are odds available online regarding the size of Donald Trump’s manhood – I think that says it all really. The access to gambling on underage sports promotes the idea to our younger generations that it is okay to gamble. Youngsters are competitive by nature and also very smart. Is there an opportunity here for manipulation of results? Will we see the opportunists come to the fore and become involved in fixing results. I am not sure that this will happen but one thing I am sure of is that a problem gambler is capable of anything.
I don’t believe that gambling on underage sports will be solely responsible for producing the next conveyor belt of problem gamblers in Ireland. It will however ensure that gambling is seen as the norm among teenagers and this is extremely dangerous. We live in an age dominated by social media and interaction ‘friends’ whether it be through Facebook or dating websites such as Tinder. The desire and ability to interact with others will be the first sign that a teenager is in trouble regarding gambling. Withdrawing from social situations becomes the norm and then a necessity when funds run out. I truly believe that I ceased growing as a person the day I placed my first bet and only truly began to grow again upon entering recovery.
Resources in Ireland are currently at bursting point regarding gambling addiction. If you line five people up against the wall you can spot the drug addict, alcoholic etc. It is very difficult to spot the gambler. The times that we live in ensure that our teenagers spend a lot of their time online – only a number of clicks away from their next bet.
I am a man who lost what could and should have been the best years of my life to gambling. I am also the lucky one who is now getting those years back. I will continue to follow Mr. Ring with interest as he seeks an immediate change in our current legislation.
(Justin has given permission for his name to be published here. I would like to thank Justin for making this submission to our blog, as well as for his honest, brave and articulate account of his own addiction and recovery experience.
Barry Grant, Founder - Problem Gambling Ireland)
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor, Founder.