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.
I'm delighted to announce that two new gambling addiction education & treatment programs are now available from Problem Gambling Ireland. Groups of up to 15 participants can be facilitated.
The first program is 2 x 90 minute group sessions for family and friends of problem gamblers, as well as helping professionals and groups that may potentially be vulnerable to gambling addiction. It covers:
Program 1 (2 x 90 minute sessions ) - €550 (up to 15 participants)
Program 2 (4 x 90 minute sessions) - €1100 (up to 15 participants)
For further information, contact Barry on 0876714259 or email info [at] problemgambling.ie
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.