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.