A few months ago, my wife and I went on a research trip to a couple of amusement arcades in Tramore. I wanted to get a feel for the experience of sitting at a 'one-armed bandit' for a while. Despite that fact that I grew up on the Meath Road in Bray (100 metres from the prom) and, later, moved to Lahinch in my teens, the gambling sections of the arcades had never held any appeal for me. I would play video games or hang out with my friends as they pumped their pocket-money into poker machines on wintry west-coast nights. While I developed many unhealthy habits in my teens, gambling wasn't one of them.
So, we gave ourselves a 20 quid limit each and set about playing some of the machines (poker and slots). As I came to my final 10 cent stake on one of the slot machines, five "7s" appeared before my eyes. I had won the princely sum of €75 (much to the disdain of the poor woman beside me). We promptly left the building and our 'free money' paid for dinner.
As an addiction counsellor, working with clients who have gambling problems, I always ask about a 'Big Win' that stands out in their minds. For some people it can be tens of thousands, for others it can be in the hundreds. For some, it is the time they turned 50 pence into £10 at the race-track as a young child, The 'Big Win' is important as it is often the 'evidence' (or 'logic') that continues to drive the person to gamble, even when they know, deep down, that they cannot gamble their way out of the financial (and/or emotional) hole they are in.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is considered to be one of the most effective treatment approaches for problem gambling, focuses, in part, on disputing irrational beliefs. So, for example, if a person was getting treatment for anxiety or panic attacks, and they had an intense fear of fainting in public places (this is very common), the therapist might explain that this is impossible as fainting is caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure, whereas the Fight or Flight response causes blood pressure to rise. Quite often, by empowering the person with the knowledge that fainting is not a realistic scenario, anxiety levels can be reduced.
Unfortunately, with gambling, the person usually has hard, indisputable evidence, that gambling their way out of difficulty is a viable option. They have done it (to some extent) in the past. They have clear memories of the 'Big Win' along with other wins and 'winning streaks'. The fact that it is extremely unlikely to play out that way, gets overridden by this 'evidence' - especially when a person is desperate, anxiety levels are high and their ability to think clearly is impaired (as it is for all of us in stressful situations). The 'Big Win' also gives that sweet hit of dopamine (the same neurotransmitter that is released when using cocaine). Just like with cocaine, and other drugs, a tolerance develops and you can find yourself needing to gamble more frequently and with larger amounts of money.
If we go back to my measly €75 jackpot on the one-arm bandit, it certainly isn't anything to write home about. However, it was a payout at odds of 750/1. I now have 'evidence', stored in my memory for all time, that it is possible for me to turn 10 cent into €75. 'Logically', this means that I have the ability to turn €1 into €750 or €10 into €7500 . . . and so on. If I were to combine that 'logic' with an emotionally aroused state (stress/anxiety), where I am less likely to be able to control my impulses and make rational decisions - along with a potentially addictive, dopamine-producing activity, like gambling - it's pretty easy to see how I might start thinking that this could be the answer to some (or all) of my problems.
Does this mean that the 'Big Win' will keep a person gambling problematically forever? Of course not. The reality is that a person with a gambling problem has, invariably, had many wins along the way. Unfortunately, one of the things that separates people with gambling problems from non-problematic gamblers, is the person's inability to walk away with their winnings. This needs to be the focus of the conversation - because this is where 'logic' goes out the window. When a person is chasing their losses, they have an overwhelming need to get their money back. Unfortunately, the same person will usually gamble away their winnings, because they see it as 'free money' or 'the bookie's money'. Usually, clients will have experienced countless incidents of this. I always ask clients, 'What are the chances that you would leave the bookies shop (or casino/arcade), if you won enough money to clear all of your debts?". The answer is consistently: 'Practically zero'. This is because a problem gambler is not addicted to winning money - they are addicted to the gambling experience (which only occasionally involves winning money) . Having money just allows the person more time to get that lovely dopamine hit and self-sooth from Life's problems.
If you find yourself chasing that 'Big Win' and the feelings that came with it, just remember that money is the least valuable thing you can gamble with. A gambling problem puts your mental/physical health and relationships at risk. If you are concerned about your gambling and the impact that it is having on your life, don't suffer in silence. Help is available.
Barry Grant, CEO, Problem Gambling Ireland
How many lies have you told today? How many lies have you told so that you could gamble today? How many lies have you told to keep your gambling hidden from the people around you….your partner, children, parents, brother, sister, friend, team-mate, colleague, employer, the bank, the credit union? How many lies have you told yourself? Maybe you went to sleep last night and your mind was frantic with thoughts of how you could keep things going or believing that, tomorrow, you could have a big win and everything would be ok? Maybe you woke up and those same thoughts were still there, along with a sick feeling in your stomach?
The opportunity to gamble is all around us and technological advances mean that we can gamble in all sorts of ways 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Most people can enjoy an occasional bet but for others there is a downward spiral and what started out with a ‘harmless’ bet ends with financial, psychological and social devastation.
The progression from recreational gambling to problem gambling generally happens in 4 phases:
The first phase ‘winning’ begins with social gambling during which, at some point, the individual experiences a big win. The excitement of the win provides a psychological ‘hit’ and winning is seen as easy.
As the gambling becomes more frequent, the law of averages takes over and the person enters the ‘losing’ phase. Some people develop insight and stop gambling completely or return to having an occasional bet. Others are unable to control their gambling and problems develop as it becomes a priority over family, friendship, work, education and other aspects of their lives.
As the gambling behaviour becomes more prevalent, the third phase ‘chasing’ begins when the person focuses on chasing their losses, gambling more and more frequently in an attempt to win back previous losses. Problem gamblers might take on additional work in order to fund their gambling or pay gambling debts. They may borrow from family or friends, get loans, steal and in other ways exploit family members, friends and colleagues. The individual often has feelings of guilt, shame and increased anxiety but the gambling continues.
The fourth phase ‘desperation’ leaves the individual feeling hopeless. The individual has tried to gamble their way out of a desperate financial situation but failed. Feelings of fear, isolation, depression and guilt become overwhelming and suicide attempts are common. Many problem gamblers continue to gamble, even in the desperation phase but the thrill of the action is sought rather than the money.
The negative impact problem gambling can have on people’s lives has been highlighted recently in the media with the publication of Declan Lynch and Tony O’Reilly’s book ‘Tony 10’ and Baz Ashmawy’s documentary ‘All Bets Are Off’. Many problem gamblers describe how gambling becomes a priority over everyone and everything else in their lives and the preoccupation with gambling brings a feeling of loss of control. The consequences can be devastating for the individual, the family unit and the wider social circle. Family members of problem gamblers describe feeling ashamed, hurt, helpless, afraid, isolated, angry, confused and distrustful. They often struggle to understand how an otherwise rational person can have behaved so irrationally. Many relationships are unable to survive the financial, psychological and emotional fallout and the family unit may break down.
Problem gambling behaviour can frequently go unnoticed. Unlike other addictions, there are no physical signs that something is wrong - no needle marks, no smell of alcohol, no staggering home. Also frequent gambling brings an occasional win and this facilitates the secrecy and can strengthen the level of denial. In my work as a psychotherapist and having completed a number of research studies on the issue of problem gambling, the hidden nature of this addiction is clear. Despite the growing numbers of people experiencing difficulty with their own or a family member’s gambling behaviour, the number of people presenting for counselling treatment is relatively low. The secrecy involved also means that unfortunately the illness is generally well-advanced before help is sought.
Recovery from problem gambling is not easy but it can and does happen. There are a number of services available to help people work towards recovery which are listed in the ‘Resources’ section of this website. Psychotherapy is one such option. Psychotherapy provides clients with the opportunity to explore any issues or problems that they are experiencing in a safe, supportive, non-judgmental and confidential environment.
In my work with clients, the therapeutic relationship is key and the establishment of a strong working alliance with each client based on empathy, mutual trust and respect is vital. For me, the work with someone presenting with problem gambling behaviour requires an open, empathic relationship which is non-judgmental while also strongly challenging the addictive behaviour. The work involves slowing down and calming the frantic thinking, helping the client gain an awareness of how their behaviour is impacting their lives and the lives of the people around them, and supporting the client so that they themselves can confront reality. Clients often describe how losing the need to lie can bring huge relief, a sense of freedom and peace of mind.
While the addictive behaviour needs to be addressed, I also support clients in looking behind the gambling to who they were before the addictive behaviour began and try to identify and explore the issues that led to the spiral into addiction. We generally find that gambling filled some sense of emptiness and part of recovery is finding new, healthy ways to fill that void. As the therapy progresses, we look beyond the gambling and reflect on the opportunities that recovery might bring as the client rediscovers (or maybe discovers for the first time) the life they want to live.
Acceptance of responsibility is an important part of the process of recovery. Change is supported when the client is able to accept what happened in the past and begin to focus on today, taking responsibility for present day decisions and actions. This concept of living in the day is central to the philosophy of the twelve step program of GA. GA is an important tool in recovery and clients are encouraged to participate in their meetings.
Problem gambling behaviour thrives on lies and secrecy and the further into the illness the bigger and the more frequent the lies and the greater the destruction. So if your gambling behaviour is becoming a concern or has gotten out of control, if you are chasing losses or feeling desperate, what would it be like to break that secrecy? What would it be like to not feel the need to lie? What would it be like to talk to someone honestly, open up about your distress and begin to work towards recovery?
Marie Lawlor is a Psychotherapist, based in Dublin 2. Marie's contact details are available here
Last week, I was fortunate to get an advance copy of a soon to be released book, 'Tony 10'. Although I had read much about the fall and rise of Tony O'Reilly, over the years (mostly the fall), I found myself very quickly being immersed in the world of Tony's extreme gambling addiction. This is, in part, due to the inimitable writing style of Declan Lynch - a man who has written about his own recovery (from alcoholism) and who has previously written two excellent books on gambling (Free Money & The Ponzi Man). The other part of this winning formula is the story itself.
Tony's story was headline news at the time. A post office manager stealing €1.75 million (in cash) from his employer, gambling every penny on his online account and going on the run to Carrickfergus (when the jig was finally up) is pretty newsworthy. What Declan and Tony have achieved with this book is to give a crystal clear insight into the mind of a man on an all-consuming, relentless downward spiral into the devastating madness of a gambling addiction. And while the figures are astronomical, the same story could be told of the person who is losing every penny they have on payday (or dole day).
One of the standout features of this book, is the fact that Declan had access to Tony's account history. Tony only ever had one online gambling account (with Paddy Power) - so every transaction could be followed in a clear timeline. Because of this, we get to see Tony's progress from making a €1 bet (from a €50 online voucher he had received as a gift) all the way up to winning - and then losing- nearly half a million over the course of two days.
Tony makes no bones about the fact that he is responsible for his actions and that he stole the money. This is undeniable and unjustifiable. However, it is mind-boggling that any gambling operator could ignore the extremely suspicious behaviour that Tony was exhibiting - without ever once raising concerns regarding money laundering, the source of his 'wealth' or the fact that he clearly had a massive gambling problem. In this case, it was Paddy Power, but it would be difficult to believe that any other gambling operator, licensed in Ireland, would have acted any differently. If ever there was an argument for gambling regulation in Ireland - Tony's case is it.
Tony's case (along with so many other cases of gambling related fraud) also highlights the need for stricter controls in workplaces. Tony was regularly gambling at work, while also stealing vast amounts of money and managing to make it through several audits. A large proportion of the people who contact our service have stolen from their employer to feed their gambling.
While most of the book is like watching a car hurtling towards a cliff edge, it does end on a positive note. After Tony's time in treatment (in Cuan Mhuire), followed by his prison sentence, Tony trains to become an addiction counsellor. I really hope that Tony's work as a counsellor, along with his story, can help others to recover from gambling addiction.
It was the 25 of September 2017 and it was just like a 100 other days for me. I was finishing work early and already the thoughts of having a gambling flutter were running around in my head, building up to the usual irresistible urge where I just can’t say no. I work in Dublin so getting to a venue where my favourite type of gambling is operated is more accessible than I would like it to be. In recent times I was getting fed up of facilitating my gambling with the monotonous journey in to the city centre. This coupled with the difficulties of parking and changes in route layouts lead me to find myself a 24 hour casino/arcade which operated automated table roulette and slot machines at the Santry Omniplex. It was out of the way with no parking problems or costs.
Automated table roulette has been my gamble of choice for some time now which in some places allows a maximum bet of between 250 to 500 euro every 30 seconds or so. They are equally as addictive and dangerous as the fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTS) currently under siege in the UK. I had also self excluded myself from a large number of venues and could not longer go there as the majority of gambling premises strictly adhere to a self exclude request. The big step I had taken on the 25 October 2016 was to hand over complete control of my finances to my brother. This meant that I hadn’t got the freedom to gamble all my money at any time and devastate my finances in a flash. I have taken steps over the last year or two to put as many obstacles in my way as possible to prevent me from gambling.
While I had handed over control of my finances, with my income going to an account set up with my brother, I only managed to stay bet free until late February 2017. I can’t remember why or how I got to that place where I made a bad choice and commenced to gamble again but, it happened. While I was gambling with much less money, the behaviour was the same. Telling little lies to account for missing time, running out of money, not having money for the basics of food etc and then as a result of getting the maximum amount of money without raising suspicion having to wait a day or two before asking for more money. This year I did everything differently, I recorded the amounts of money I gambled and I recorded the dates on which I had gambled. This allowed me to look very closely at my gambling patterns and indeed the frequency of my betting. Having looked at those patterns since stopping on the 25 September I noticed that gambling was becoming less frequent than it had been in the past as I passed through the year. I hadn’t examined my gambling patterns in this way before and it has made me very conscious of how reckless my past behaviour has been.
As soon as I was finished work on that September Monday I made my way to my car and drove to Santry Omniplex. I had the usual thoughts of what I was going to do with the winnings which in a way are a little ridiculous. This is particularly so, as I will never take winnings. I will gamble as long as the available money will allow me to gamble. I got to the door. The sign on the door says ‘members only, but as usual I pressed the buzzer and a member of staff let me in. No question as to who I was, whether I was a member or check to see if I was somebody who shouldn’t be let in. I walked straight up stairs to my preferred automated roulette table, sat at the position I always sat at and put my money note in the slot. It sucked it in and the usual sounds emanated from the machine as it decided which note bill it was and clocked the credit up on the machine. The intensity of my urges had been building up since I had decided that I was going to gamble. Even as the note was going into the machine it almost felt like something had been injected in to me easing the urge and giving me some form of satisfaction. It wasn’t until I placed the first bet and the wheel was spinning that I started to feel at ease. It was probably a little like how somebody else would look forward to a holiday or a concert. I was now going into my own little world of escapism. A world where you forget about everything else that was going on in your life, nothing or no one mattered while you gambled on each spin of the wheel. Even the consequences of how your life was going to be after you lost all your money didn’t matter. Incredible, but true.
15 minutes or so later, my world of escape came to a crashing end after I placed my bet and the remnants of my money/credits disappeared before my eyes. I had as usual placed some sort of bet on at least three quarters of the numbers on the roulette table but somehow, miraculously the ball fell on a number I didn’t have and my credit rolled to zero. This was a regular feature of the roulette machine, it either lands on a number near your number with the potential of the biggest win or gives you a win which was less than your stake with all the sounds of a big win. (Gambling Addiction by Design) Suddenly, it was back to reality like coming out of a semi hypnotic trance. My immediate thoughts were focussed on how I was going to continue to gamble. After considering whether it was a viable option to contact my brother or not I decided to call him and came up with plausible story as to why I needed to money. Very quickly I had some more money in my account. I couldn’t wait to draw it out of the wall, incidentally, on the same building as the casino. How convenient! Pressed the door buzzer just like earlier and very quickly I was back sitting at the roulette table trying to figure out which number was coming next. Was there a pattern? What number was likely to come up? There are only 36 numbers and one zero. It couldn’t be that difficult! It must be because on occasions I had put bets on every single number with the exception of one or two and guess what? Yes one of the two numbers that I didn’t put anything on came up. Can you imagine the frustration? For some people, it makes them extremely angry and they end up banging machines and shouting loudly and aggressively. Fortunately, for me, I have become resigned to the outcomes and I suppose deep down I know that I am going to lose and there’s not much point in getting angry any more.
My refill of money didn’t last very long. I tried one set of numbers the others came up. No matter what I did I couldn’t win. While I wasn’t angry I was very frustrated and I started to feel real bad as my last few credits were taken away from me leaving me with an empty pocket and probably no money for a couple of days. The same feelings as if I had lost thousands in that one session.
Thoughts went through my head questioning the reasoning and indeed why do I keep doing this to myself. I was really fed up of this continuous cycle of self destruction and self torture. Why? I don’t suppose I will ever know but I had enough. I thought to myself, I just can’t keep doing this. I am having a life but in parallel I’m having no life. I went down stairs and approached the cashier’s desk and told the guy behind the counter that I wanted to self exclude myself from the premises. He asked me if I was a member and I replied ‘that I wasn’t!’ Surprise! Surprise! If he had checked when I entered the premises he would have known that. Nevertheless he asked me for some ID and I gave him my driving licence and he recorded the details. I left the building and headed for home feeling really fed up of what I had been doing to myself.
I haven’t gambled since and I have no intention of doing so. A few days after stopping, I went to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting at Cuan Mhuire in Athy, Co. Kildare. This is one of my favourite meetings as there are regularly gambling addicts in treatment there and it gives a degree of revisiting where you have come from which is not always present at other meetings. While I have now passed 90 days it hasn’t always been easy with urges presenting themselves here and there but I have been able to deal with them and resist the temptation to give up my recovery. I don’t think it is worth it anymore. The cost and the loss is much greater than money alone. The improvement in my life in a few short months completely justifies that abstention from betting. During this time I have also had a few incidents in my life which would in other circumstances sent me on a betting rampage.
What have I been doing to keep myself from gambling? Firstly, I want to stop gambling, change my life and start living a normal life. I have wanted this since I have become a gambling addict but I had never been able to achieve it. That being the big motivator, there has been other difficulties to get over. I don’t know how many other gambling addicts experience this but since stopping I have found it difficult to treat myself or spend money on myself. I don’t know if that is because in the past the idea of protecting your gambling source and saving your money for the bet still sub consciously takes place in your head. Maybe in some way I still want to punish myself as I have done through gambling. It got a little bit better over Christmas and I managed to have a good time. Gambling has also been a means of isolating myself and I find it difficult to partake in social occasions. I have a complete aversion to social gatherings and the potential for connecting. For some strange reason I don’t have that difficulty with Gamblers Anonymous. While there were a few social gatherings over Christmas I got through them and I really have to start looking at association in a different way.
Overall, I don’t keep much money on my person, I only request the amount I need and avoid asking for larger amounts of money unless I need it. Over Christmas this arose as I needed larger amounts of money for gifts for my partner etc. When I got the money, the urge and temptation immediately presented itself and I managed to resist.
However, it would have been just as easy to go gambling but I know if I make the wrong choice I’m back to square one just like snakes and ladders and I really don’t want to go back to the start. I now keep in touch with other recovering gamblers more than I have done in the past and this also has helped somewhat. I am active participant on twitter promoting all things that advocate help and assistance in problem gambling. This is probably the area that helps me most. I now have over 700 followers and I regularly tweet information, articles and other bits and pieces which I feel may be of interest to those that follow me. It has also enabled me to connect with other gamblers, counsellors and others around the world who have an interest in all things problem gambling related.
With 2018 just around the corner I am starting to look forward to a much brighter future, a clearer mind and a normal life. It isn’t much for anyone to expect. Recovery is my key task and through my recovery I hope to help others achieve abstention. I know for some people recovery takes a long time and is taking a long time for me. Making the right choices, considering the disaster of relapse a single day at a time will aid my path to a normal and bet free life. Have a happy bet free 2018.
**Editor: Massive thanks to @CompulsiveG for another excellent post. Keep fighting the good fight! You can follow @CompulsiveG on Twitter, for more insights into all things problem gambling-related.**
They say Christmas is a time for reflection and the New Year a time for new beginnings.
When I was asked to write this blog I started reflecting on my last few Christmases, some
while I was gambling and others when free from Gambling.
When I was preparing for a talk I gave at a gambling seminar in September this year I was
going through my online betting history for some power point slides. The scale and
frequency of the bets were two things that really stood out; however, another thing that
caught my eye was that over the years when gambling I had been placing bets on Christmas
Day. Not for events on that day, but for events on St Stephen's day, such as racing and football.
On a day when I should have been enjoying spending time with my family I couldn’t help but
check in with my best friend at the time: ‘Paddy Power’. Maybe knowing that I had the bet
placed, helped me get through that day, or made me feel normal.
In 2011 my gambling finally caught up with me. I had stolen money from my employer in
order to fund my gambling addiction. In July that year this had been discovered and I went to
treatment in Cuan Mhuire, Athy. It was a 3 month residential programme and I celebrated my
Daughter’s first birthday there. Not the ideal setting for a birthday party but I knew that I
needed to be there. I finished the programme in October but the relationships with my wife
and family were extremely strained. That Christmas should have been a joyful time, as it was
my daughter’s first real Christmas: she was 16 months old at the time. For me, it was tinged
with sadness, guilt, regret, shame and the fear of what was to come. I remember that,
although I was free from gambling, it was not a happy time. I was still numb. Anger and
resentment were very evident as my family were still getting to terms with what I had done. I
had embarrassed both myself and them with my actions.
Christmas one year on: my actions were rightly punished as I was sentenced to 4 years in
Prison with 1 suspended for false accounting and theft. I spent Christmas week settling into
my new environment and cell in the midlands prison. The highlight of that Christmas in C
wing was the Eastender’s Cliff-hanger when it was revealed which one of the Branning
brothers had been having an affair with Kat Moon. Such is the need for escapism in Prison
that the soaps are hugely popular. The following week I rang in the New Year with Imelda
May amidst the surreal noise of brushes and dinner trays banging off cell doors. I recall this
being a happier time for me even though I was away from my family. There was a real sense
of relief that I had reached this part of my journey. I had been waiting over a year for
sentencing and now that I knew my fate I could get my head down and try get my life back
on track. I felt back in control.
I spent the following Christmas in an open prison and on my own. I had lost my marriage at
this stage but was still bet free. I was really starting to rebuild my life and even though I was
still in Prison I was content. I had starting my counselling course that September and was
aware that the following year there was a good chance that I would be out on Community
Return and get to spend Christmas with my family.
The following year I did get to spend Christmas with my family. However, my mother had
lost her brave battle with cancer and passed away on the 13th of December. It was a sad time;
especially for me personally. I didn’t get to rebuild the damaged relationship with her as I
wasn’t long out of Prison when she died. Even to this day it is a huge regret that she didn’t
get to see me turn my life completely around. I can only hope that she is looking down and
feeling proud. Christmas that year was really tough and my feeling of loss was huge. I was
now over 3 years free from gambling and studying to be an addiction counsellor. My
relationship with my daughter was getting stronger and this bond was the real driving force
for me in my recovery.
Christmas 2015 was when I met my current partner and this was my happiest Christmas for
well over a decade. I really felt that 2016 was going to be a good year. Positive things were
starting to happen for me. I was starting to reap the rewards for all the hard work I put into
my recovery. I had my challenges and obstacles but discovered new ways of coping and
dealing with what life threw at me.
Talking and being open and honest was a new concept to me but today it is what keeps me
from not going back to my old ways. In March 2016 I started my new role in Dublin as an
addiction counsellor. I have been working there since and am seeing a lot with clients with
gambling addictions. I am using both my training and my own personal experience to try
help people who are struggling with this horrendous and growing problem.
I count myself as one of the lucky ones who have managed to break free of the shackles of
problem gambling. I am looking forward to my 7th Christmas bet free and am very grateful to
be able to enjoy it for what it is supposed to be. However, I am also very aware that there are
tens of thousands of people out there struggling with the fallout of their gambling or that of a
family member, friend or work colleague. For them, Christmas this year will be a time of
extreme stress, hurt and money worries. I have been there and it is not a nice place to be
especially at this time of year.
The good news for anyone reading this that is affected by problem gambling is that there is
help out there. Organisations such as The Rutland Centre and Cuan Mhuire provide
residential treatment for people suffering with gambling problems. Other Organisations such
as Problem Gambling Ireland provide all kinds of support for both the problem gambler and
their families. Also, Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon (Family & Friends) meetings are available,
nationwide. I know that going to treatment saved my life and helped me cope with going to
prison and with getting my life back on track. It has been really hard at times but the support
I have received over the years has played a huge part in my recovery. I wouldn’t be in such a
good place had it not being for the kindness and help from numerous amazing people.
For me personally, the most important aspect of recovery and my first step in dealing with
this addiction was accepting that I had a problem. I then had to take responsibility for my
actions and really want to change. I had to find new ways of coping and make a new life for
myself that didn’t have gambling as the focal point. I have managed to this because of sheer
determination to have a better life for myself, my partner and my daughter. I had to get past
the ego, pride and fear and ask for help. This isn’t an easy thing to do and my one real regret
is that I didn’t look for help earlier. I had to really hit the ‘rock bottom’ before I was open to
the healing process. If I was to offer one piece of advice to anyone this Christmas who is
suffering either directly or indirectly with a gambling problem, it is to reach out to someone
and ask for help.
I remember being asked the question at the Gambling Conference- “How are you now?”
I replied “I have never been in a better place, but it is a pity that I had to go to hell and back
to get here. “
**Editor** Huge thanks to Tony for sharing his experience of recovery from gambling. Tony is an addiction counsellor, working with Cuan Mhuire and in private practice. If you wish to contact Tony for counselling, his number is: 0894109813.
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. ]
Yesterday, we sent our joint pre-budget submission to Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe. Together with the Rutland Centre, we have been campaigning to have a portion of the Betting Duty allocated to the treatment and prevention of problem gambling in Ireland.
If you are interested in supporting this campaign, please contact your local TD. A list of email addresses for all TDs is available here.
Below is the opening section of our submission. The full document can be downloaded here (PDF).
Dear Minister Donohoe,
We are writing to ask that you allocate urgently-needed funding to problem gambling services in Budget 2018.
Currently there is no dedicated funding for problem gambling treatment, prevention or research in Ireland. This is despite the fact that we have the highest per capita gambling losses in Europe (the third highest globally). The HSE does not have problem gambling or gambling addiction as part of their Service Plan for 2017 and we have been advised by them that it is unlikely that they will allocate funding to this area, as they are aware that a dedicated Social Fund is due to be created upon the enactment of the Gambling Control Bill. Unfortunately, it may take several years before the Social Fund is active and this is time that the thousands of families affected by gambling-related harm do not have.
We propose that Betting Duty be increased by a minimum of 0.1%, with those additional funds (roughly €5 million) allocated to problem gambling services. We propose that this be an interim measure until the Social Fund is active. At an Oireachtas Agriculture Committee meeting earlier this year, Mr Brian Kavanagh, CEO of Horse Racing Ireland (the main recipient of Betting Duty funding), stated that funding addiction services from Betting Duty would be “eminently sensible” (i). Our proposal has also gained public support from Paddy Power co-founder, Stewart Kenny (ii).
Currently Ireland has the lowest Betting Duty in Europe. The equivalent turnover rate in the UK is 1.5%. We feel that this leaves plenty of scope for an increase, without adversely affecting either the Horse Racing and Greyhound industries or the gambling industry.
According to an estimate from the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, there are somewhere between 28,000 and 40,000 problem gamblers in Ireland. International research has shown that, for every problem gambler, an additional 8-10 people’s lives are negatively affected. Even at the lower end of the scale, this would mean that there are in the region of 250,000 people in Ireland who are experiencing gambling-related harm.
In July of this year, Taoiseach Varadkar stated that gambling can give rise to “people becoming addicted, impoverished and unwell as a consequence” (iii). We strongly believe that it is time for the State to recognise problem gambling as a serious public health issue in Ireland.
We urge you to use any increase in Betting Duty in Budget 2018 as an opportunity to help people whose lives have been devastated by gambling addiction, as well as helping to prevent young people and other at-risk groups from developing gambling problems.
Maebh Leahy Barry Grant
Rutland Centre Problem Gambling Ireland
Pre-Budget Submission Summary
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.
The 13-week pilot run of our Weekend Helpline has come to an end and, regrettably, we are unable to continue the service at this time. We will be focusing our limited resources on harm-prevention services for the rest of 2017. We may look at relaunching a helpline service in 2018, subject to funding.
If you are concerned about your own gambling, or that of a loved one, please call one of the numbers, below.
The results of our Strategic Planning Survey are now available. The full document (PDF) can be downloaded here. I would like to thank everybody who took the time to give their views. It makes for very interesting reading and certainly challenged some of my own views on key topics.
As much as possible, I attempted to balance my own bias when creating the questions. One example is Q14: "I am happy with the amount of gambling advertising on Irish media (including social media)". This is not my position, but I did not want to "lead" survey respondents by posing the question, based on my own biased view. It was interesting that, in the case of this question, over 92% of respondents either disagreed (24.29%) or strongly disagreed (68.57%) with the statement.
Other interesting results include:
The survey was sent to addiction workers, listed on the www.drugs.ie website, was shared on social media and was available on our website. While we are not claiming any statistical significance, the survey makes for interesting reading and has been invaluable in preparing our Strategic Planning for the next three years.
Barry Grant, CEO & Founder, Problem Gambling Ireland.
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor, Founder.