As a person working for an NGO, which advocates for safeguarding measures to be put in place to protect vulnerable adults and children from gambling related harm, I sometimes get the occasional snarky comment directed my way. It's often something along the lines of, 'Won't somebody please think of the children?!' - a much-used quote from the Simpsons. I respect everyone's opinions on these matters and I'm more than happy to debate my side of the street with anyone who is so inclined. I'm very comfortable with my pearl-clutching, bleeding-heartedness - as I witness, first-hand, on a daily basis, the devastation which a lack of gambling regulation and harm-prevention services has on individuals, families and the wider community. The vast majority of people who attend our gambling addiction treatment service, started gambling as children.
Of all the massive gaps in problem gambling service provision, which I find utterly infuriating, the one that boils my blood the most, is the absence of any statutory intervention to "take appropriate measures to protect young people from gambling-related risks". The reason that last section is in quotes, is that it comes from the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, 2014-2020 (Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures). The policy is in its final year and, to date, the only change which has the potential to have any positive impact on children and young people is the legislation enacted this year, which places an over-18s age restriction on Tote betting and on 'gaming' machines. Previously there had been no age limit at the Tote and 'gaming' machines (such as slot machines - the most addictive form of gambling) had an age limit of 16.
Government has completely ignored its duty of care to young people, when it comes to gambling-related harm. We know, from the recent European School Survey (ESPAD) of 15-16 year old's in Ireland, that betting on sports or animals (horse and dog racing) is the most common gambling activity. This can only happen if gambling operators are failing to verify the age of their customers. We also know that when the Regulator of the Irish National Lottery performed a 'Mystery Shopper' test in July 2018, they found that over one-third of retail staff (37%) did not attempt to verify the young person's age. A recent PQ reply from Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, showed that the State has never funded any harm-prevention interventions for gambling addiction.
In the recently released ESPAD survey, they looked at problem gambling among 15-16 year old's for the first time. While they did publish rates of problem gambling among those who gambled, they did not provide the prevalence rate, across all respondents. As I am terrible at maths and get nose-bleeds when it comes to statistics, I reached out for help. Doctoral Student, Conor Keogh (UCD) came to the rescue.
Here are the headline figures from Conor's analysis of the ESPAD Survey (2019) and a comparison with the National Advisory Council on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA) problem gambling prevalence rates from 2014/15:
It is firstly important to consider that the above figures are not a statistical aberration and are generally in line with trends that are being seen all over Europe. Indeed, the ESPAD results found that of all those respondents across the full European sample who had gambled in the last twelve months, around 5% of respondents met the criteria for problem gambling. This
equates to a rate of around 1.4% across the total sample in Europe. As has been in the case in various previous research
findings, the ESPAD report also points to a very prominent gender discrepancy that exists in respect to problem gambling.
In every country surveyed in the ESPAD report, boys were more likely to be problem gamblers than girls (boys had an
average of 29%, compared to 15% amongst girls).
Going back to the Irish context, the 2014 / 2015 Drug Prevalence Survey carried out by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA) was amongst the first prevalence surveys carried out in the country to gauge gambling
behaviours across the population. The report estimated that 0.8% of the male population aged between 15 and 17 fit
the criteria for being problem gamblers (based on the DSM-IV classification framework). For females of the same age bracket, the figure was slightly lower, estimated to be around 0.7%. Overall, male adolescents were more likely to have gambled at least once over the past 12 months (29.9%) compared to adolescent females (20.6%).
The recently released ESPAD statistics surrounding underage gambling in Ireland paint a highly dangerous picture. The
ESPAD survey report (which covers a wide range of adolescent behaviours including alcohol, drug, and technology use)
suggests that the problem gambling rate amongst Irish adolescent males has in fact risen to 1.7%, compared to the 0.8%
found in the NACDA report. This represents nearly a doubling of problem gamblers amongst this demographic. 15 – 16-year-old females were estimated to have a lower rate, estimated to be at around 0.2%. This is in line with the average across all age-groups in the female population (0.2%), based on the NACDA 2014/15 study. In line with
the other European states, boys who gambled had a higher problem gambling rate (7.6%) than the girls who gambled
(2.8%). Of the students who gambled in the last 12 months, 26.3% (around 1 in 4) felt they needed to bet and spend more,
and 12.2% (around 1 in 10) had lied to those close to them about their gambling behaviours.
In the UK, we see a similar situation. The Gambling Commission’s 2019 report that investigated gambling behaviour
amongst 11–16-year olds found that 1.7% of this demographic fit the criteria for being problem gamblers.
In terms of total figures, this means that approximately 55,000 children are classified as problem gamblers in England,
Scotland, and Wales. In addition to this, another 2.7% presented as being ‘at-risk’ gamblers, presenting
with signs that they could be at risk of developing a more serious problem. Overall, 39% of the full cohort of respondents
aged 11 – 16 have admitted gambling with their own money recently, with the most popular form of gambling being
fruit machines at arcades and pubs (incidentally, slot machines were the least favoured form of gambling amongst Irish
adolescent gamblers, according to the ESPAD data).
Gambling amongst adolescents: new forms of gambling
Decades of technological advance have meant that gambling has spread into various diverse forms of media, which has
meant that the lines which demarcate what exactly constitutes “gambling” have become blurry in recent years. Such
recent technological advancements have meant that gambling can be seen in increasingly common places, exposing
children to it on a very regular basis, via television, mobile phones, and increasingly, in video games. One of the most
notable places we can see this is through the increasingly popular “loot boxes” in video games. Indeed, recent research
published by Central Queensland University found that of the 82 best-selling video games available, 62% (51 of them)
had loot box mechanisms in them.
For example, “FIFA packs” (as one example of many more) have been a notable demonstration of the muddied definitional
lines between what is a harmless, fun feature of a game, and what is considered gambling. In many ways, the process of
opening a pack (or any other similar loot box) is very much psychologically akin to a gamble and involves stimulating the
brain in the same way that any other gamble does. As Macdonald (2018) says; “the dopamine hit is enjoyable, but
potentially addictive, and hard to resist”. Whilst technically the reward being received by the player is not physically
tangible (one might ‘pack’ a Lionel Messi in FIFA, yet this Messi has little to no value outside the game world), the
overarching mechanism remains the same – it is a game of chance, of risk and reward, and is ultimately psychologically
akin to real-life gambling that provides a “‘ripe breeding ground’ for the development of problem gambling among
children”(Drummond and Sauer, 2018). In a recent Oireachtas report, Hurley (2020) mentions that at the time of writing,
Ireland does not have a “gambling regulator, a digital safety commission or any other independent expert body responsible for determining whether loot boxes ought to be regulated as a form of gambling” and argues that there is a “growing
consensus” that such regulation is required in Ireland to regulate for such practices.
For many adult problem gamblers, their first exposure to gambling was in childhood. Testimonies from gamblers tell us
that this first exposure can range from anything like buying a scratchcard, betting on the Grand National, sneaking into a
casino, or perhaps playing cards with friends. Now, the number of opportunities available to would-be adolescent
gamblers is enormous. This, combined with a very-liberal approach to gambling advertisement (noticeably during
live sports), a prominent “gambling culture”, and the emergence and popularisation of gambling-simulator type practices
in more common forms of media (such as video games), has led to a situation where children and adolescents have become at great risk to the harms associated with gambling, and the recent ESPAD statistics are a distinct testament to this.
Problem gambling comes with a devastating personal, economic, psychological, and social cost. The figures that we see
here from ESPAD are a result of an industry that has been continually under-legislated for in Ireland, and are a stark
indictment of the Government’s failure to implement any meaningful legislation or solutions in order to counterbalance
the devastating personal, financial and social cost of a gambling addiction. They also act as a timely reminder (and warning) that not enough has been done to protect children and adolescents from the harm associated with gambling, and that
there is an urgent need for the development and implementation of proper channels of gambling prevention education,
support, and treatment in Ireland, along with re-emphasising the urgent need for across-the-board legislation.
NACDA Problem Gambling Prevalence Survey 2014/15
7 years ago, today, on the 15th of July 2013, the Heads of the Gambling Control Bill were published by the Fine Gael-lead government. The Heads of Bill outline a progressive piece of legislation, which has the potential to put in place fit-for-purpose legislation and regulation of gambling in Ireland, as well as creating a 'Social Fund', which would provide financial supports for problem gambling treatment, prevention, education and research. It saddens me greatly that we are here, 7 years later, with no enactment of the Bill and no Gambling Regulatory Authority in place.
To put this 7 year duration into context, the Public Health Alcohol Bill holds the current record for the longest interval between the publication of a Bill and its enactment - at 3 years. It was one of the most lobbied against Bills in the history of Irish legislation, by one of the strongest lobby groups in the country - the alcohol industry.
In the absence of fit-for-purpose legislation and regulation, we see what the outgoing Minister of State, with responsibility for gambling legislation, David Stanton, called a 'Wild West' environment. In any unregulated sector, with unenforced and, often, unenforceable legislation, you will inevitably see a 'race to the bottom'. Just as in other jurisdictions, unscrupulous gambling operators, in Ireland, prey on vulnerable people for profit.
In March of this year, Betway received a fine of £11.6 million from the UK Gambling Commission for failings linked to so-called 'VIP' customers.
In February of this year, Mr Green received a fine of £3 million for 'regulatory failures', including Anti-Money Laundering and Social Responsibility breaches.
In July 2019, Ladbrokes/Coral received a fine of £5.9 million for 'past failings in anti-money laundering and social responsibility'.
In October 2018, Paddy Power/Betfair paid a 'penalty package' of £2.2 million for 'social responsibility and money laundering failures on its gambling exchange'.
All of these companies provide gambling services, either online or land-based, in Ireland. It would be naive in the extreme to assume that they are better behaved in the unregulated Irish market, than they are in the regulated UK one.
Just over 9 years ago, it came to light that my colleague, Tony O'Reilly, had stolen €1.75 million from his employer, An Post, and gambled every cent of it. The vast majority was put through his Paddy Power account. At no point did Paddy Power staff make any effort to intervene on the basis that Tony clearly had a severe gambling problem - which they were uniquely placed to identify. Nor did anyone from Paddy Power ever inquire as to the source of the astronomical funds which a post office manager was gambling. Instead, Tony was given the 'VIP' treatment and given tickets to race meetings and football matches. This is what an unregulated gambling market looks like. There were no sanctions brought against Paddy Power for Tony's case.
Over the last 7 years of inactivity by the Irish Government, we have seen:
In March 2019, then Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, stated that a Gambling Regulatory Authority could take up to 18 months to establish. This would give a timeline of September 2020. While Covid-19 has, no doubt, impacted on that timeline, it is reasonable, after a 7 year wait, for the people of Ireland to expect urgent action.
If you are reading this and are sick and tired of the gambling industry in Ireland being unregulated, or if you wish to see funding directed towards treatment and prevention services, please contact your local TD. A list of contact details is available here: https://www.whoismytd.com/
The silent addiction cannot become the forgotten addiction. The time for action is now - not in another 7 years time.
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor & Founder, Problem Gambling Ireland
[We discuss this issue in more detail, in this week's episode of The Problem Gambling Podcast.]
Today, I wrote to the members of the Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Green Party negotiating teams, to ask that they ensure that Gambling Regulation is part of the new Programme for Government.
"I am writing to you, as a member of [your party's] negotiating team, to ask that you and your colleagues please ensure that the establishment of a Gambling Regulatory Authority is part of the new Programme for Government.
Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have committed to this in their manifestos. A Gambling Regulatory Authority would be self-financing, through licence fees, fines and levies. As such it would place no additional burden on the Exchequer, during these challenging financial times for our country. Any set-up costs could be recouped, over time, through (for example) any fines levied on gambling operators.
There are between 30,000 and 40,000 people with gambling problems in Ireland. It is estimated that, for every person with a gambling problem, an additional 8-10 people are adversely affected. The HSE stated that they only worked with 230 people with gambling problems in 2019. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Our free counselling service, in Waterford and Dublin, which launched in July 2019, worked with 98 people in its first 6 months of operation (with just two counsellors). At the start of lockdown we had over 50 people on the waiting list for Dublin.
A Social Fund - a mandatory levy on industry turnover – as outlined in the Heads of Fine Gael’s Gambling Control Bill, would fund urgently needed treatment, prevention and research in the area of problem gambling. Research from other parts of the world has shown a massive increase in online casino gambling, during the Covid 19 lockdown. This is a far more addictive form of gambling and, as such, we expect to see an increased need for supports in the coming months and years."
Barry Grant, Founder - Problem Gambling Ireland
Over the last number of weeks, I like many of the clients that I work with, have been reflecting on gambling behavior and addiction. A few weeks ago. I was working on a couple of projects in regard to education and awareness and as part of this work I was examining my betting history. My betting history is a 1106-page document detailing my online bets and activity. It is with one Gambling Company and comprises of 6934 bets that were transacted through one account.
Tony10… customer ID 169967
I was looking for patterns and behaviours that highlight various aspects that can potentially lead to a gambling addiction. These include game design, betting in running, gambling with credit and the concepts of the chase/losses disguised as wins. I was bamboozled by the numbers and the sheer scale of the gambling. I was shocked by the events that I ended up gambling on. I reflected on how I let it get that bad. But mostly, I was very taken aback by my emotional reaction to it all. I found that I was reliving the trauma and emotional experience that I lived through for months while hiding and trying to gamble my way out of trouble. Similar to when working with trauma, I was trying to reach out to the side of me that got gripped by this madness and ‘put a compassionate arm’ around that side of me that still hurts, still feels extreme shame and guilt.
All the responsible gambling messages and ads tell you to ‘stop when the fun stops’, ‘know and set limits’, ‘only gamble what you can afford to lose’, ‘take a break’, ‘think about what you are doing’ and never chase your loses. The only thought that I had while in the grips of a gambling addiction was ‘How Do I Fix This’ and ‘How Do I Stop This Pressure and Madness in My Head’. I was out of control and couldn’t think rationally and ‘Be Responsible’.
Looking back now I accept full responsibility and have lost a lot because of gambling but staring at my history that Saturday afternoon I started to get more and more angry at the lack of controls and protection that I wasn’t afforded as a customer. I wondered what would have happened if there was regulation in Ireland back when I was gambling, and if it may have made a difference to me if I had been educated about the dangers of gambling while in school (in the same way that I was about Drugs and Alcohol).
I can’t go back and change what I did and undo the pain that I caused so many by my actions but I have tried to become a better person and try on a daily basis to help people who are struggling with gambling addiction. The one thing that frustrates me most is that 9 years on from when my story broke, little has changed. We badly need regulation and education in Ireland regarding gambling addiction. Hopefully, when the next Government is formed and after we work through these uncertain times, we will finally get the 2013 Gambling Control Bill enacted and the regulation in place which is so badly needed in Ireland. Gambling addiction like so many other behavioural addictions is a ticking time bomb, and in my opinion, growing and growing even in these dark days when everything else has come to a standstill.
Tony O'Reilly is an Addiction Counsellor with Problem Gambling Ireland and the co-author of 'Tony10'.
It has been estimated that the cost of problem gambling to the UK taxpayer is £1.2 billion per year (£18.17 per head of population). If similar figures were reflected in the Irish population, the cost to the Irish taxpayer, from problem gambling, would be in the region of €98 million (£87 million). Up until this year, the tax revenue from Betting Duty in Ireland was only in the region of €50 million. A doubling of the Betting Duty rate (to 2%) in Budget 2019, means that revenue should increase to roughly €100 million. You may be thinking that this balances the books. Unfortunately, in true Irish fashion, this is not the case. According to the Horse Racing and Greyhound Act, the Minister shall pay into the Horse Racing & Greyhound Fund, out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas, "an amount, determined by the Revenue Commissioners, equivalent to the revenue paid into the Exchequer in the year . . . from excise duty on off-course betting". This means, in practice, that the entire tax-take from Betting Duty is ring-fenced in favour of Horse Racing Ireland (80%) and The Greyhound Racing Board (20%). Horse Racing Ireland and The Greyhound Racing Board are, themselves, gambling operators, through Tote betting. (Just in case you're thinking that these entities 'only' receive a paltry €50 million every year, you'll be happy to know that in 2018 the Fund was topped up with an additional €30 million from general exchequer funding in 2018.) As the Horse Racing & Greyhound Act has not been amended, this means that the entire increase in revenue, obtained from the doubling of Betting Duty, is due to end up in the Horse Racing & Greyhound Fund.
Meanwhile, the accumulated government spend on reducing gambling-related harm in Ireland, since the inception of the State is zero.
In September 2018, Minister for Health, Simon Harris stated: “I don’t believe as a country we have made nearly enough progress in relation to how we tackle the issue of addiction in relation to gambling,” and that he would speak to Catherine Byrne, the junior health minster responsible for addiction services, about making more money available for gambling treatment.
In February of this year, after the release of prevalence data into gambling and problem gambling in Ireland, Minister of State, Catherine Byrne, stated: "For the small percentage of people for whom gambling is a problem, we need measures to reduce problem gambling and its impact on individuals and their families". Commenting on the same survey, Minister of State, David Stanton, stated: "This is especially important for the small percentage of people for whom gambling can negatively affect significant areas of their lives including their mental and physical health, employment, finances and relationships with others.”
In October 2018, Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, stated that the social cost of problem gambling was one of the factors that caused him to raise betting tax. However, despite submissions by this organisation and the Rutland Centre, along with pressure from the Independent Alliance, no allocation of funding from Betting Duty or elsewhere has yet been made, for services which work to prevent and treat gambling addiction. In November 2018, Minister Donohoe also stated: "While problem gambling can result in the problem gambler, and their family, bearing the severest of economic and of course personal costs, the social costs of problem gambling can extend to their employers and to public institutions in the health, welfare and justice systems, such costs ultimately borne by taxpayers. This needs to be better reflected within the betting duty regime."
In July 2017, Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, stated that gambling "gives rise to people becoming addicted, impoverished and unwell as a consequence" and that "Legislation in this area is long overdue". I would put it to the Taoiseach, that funding for frontline services is also long, long overdue.
While it is gratifying to hear acknowledgements of the harm caused by problem gambling in Ireland and heartwarming to hear that government representatives would like to see funding being made available to help people affected by gambling related harm - no meaningful action has yet been taken by this government that would in any way help the tens of thousands of people currently suffering.
Enough talk. It's time for the Irish Government to put their money where their mouth is and begin funding prevention and treatment services.
CEO, Problem Gambling Ireland
A few weeks ago, we sent our pre-budget submission, in collaboration with The Rutland Centre, to Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, and the members of the Finance Committee.
In it, we detailed the urgent need for statutory funding of problem gambling services in Ireland. At the time of writing, there is no statutory funding stream for problem gambling research, prevention or treatment. It's also worth noting that the word 'gambling' doesn't appear once in the HSE's Service Plan.
The submission urges the Minister for Finance to increase Betting Duty to 2%, from the current 1% rate. Those of you of a similar age to me (46) will remember when Betting Duty was 20%, then 10%, then 5%, then 2%. Returning the rate to 2% would bring in an additional €50 million to the exchequer. This could be used to fund numerous state services, as well as developing a dedicated fund for problem gambling services.
Here are some of the main points from the submission:
If you want to see state funding of problem gambling services in Ireland, please consider contacting your TD over the coming weeks. Contact details for all TDs are available here.
When I was a kid, my grandparents owned a camping and caravan park in Lahinch, Co. Clare. In the office, they kept a visitors' book, where the occasional guest would leave comments on their stay - like a stone-age version of Trip Advisor. One rainy day (of which there were many), my brother and I, bored out of our skulls, decided to read through the visitors' book. It made for pretty tedious reading, until we came across the following inscription: "It was cold and it rained and I felt like an actor. And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there'. Both of us were massive Bowie fans and instantly recognised the quote as coming from his 1972 track 'Five Years'. The story goes that Bowie had a dream that he would be dead within five years and that this impacted on his behaviour through much of the '70s (including his refusal to get on a plane). Just seeing this quote, brightened our day. We felt a special bond with the rain-soaked suffering of this long-gone tourist.
Five years ago, this week (July 15th 2013), Fine Gael Minster for Justice, Alan Shatter, published the Heads of the Gambling Control Bill. It is a progressive piece of legislation, which has the capacity to revolutionise how the gambling industry in Ireland does its business, how government regulates that business and how government and NGOs prevent and minimise gambling-related harm.
So, in the intervening period, what progress has been made? In a nutshell: none. Fine Gael have continued to be the largest party in government and have had a Fine Gael Minister for Justice, the entire time. You might think that the opposition parties have been holding things up - but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Fianna Fail resubmitted the government's own legislation, calling it the Gambling Control Bill 2018, earlier this year, and it has passed to second stage. The only minor changes to the original Fine Gael legislation related to a levy on gambling industry turnover. This is because opposition parties are not allowed to introduce taxes, without permission ( a 'Money Order') from the government.
When asked, last year, about the delay in progressing their own Bill, the Minister of State with responsibility for gambling, David Stanton, stated, : "it will require some significant updating to take account of developments since 2013". This is a cop-out. There have been no radical changes to the gambling environment since 2013. The 2013 Bill, if enacted today, would be light-years ahead of the current legislation (1929 Totalisator Act, 1931 Betting Act, 1956 Gaming & Lotteries Act). In its current format, the 2013 Bill is already more progressive than legislation in operation, at present, in the UK. The 2013 Bill is perfectly adequate, in its current form, to be enacted - and could always be amended, as new developments in the gambling sector arise.
Our most recent piece of gambling legislation (1956) pre-dates the establishment of Teilifís Éireann by 5 years. Just think about that for a second. It harks back to a time when our nation didn't even have a national television broadcaster. And the Minister is using minor technological changes as an excuse not to progress legislation.
When I talk to problem gambling service providers from other jurisdictions, they don't believe me when I tell them that it is still perfectly legal for a child of any age to place a bet at the Tote, in any race track in Ireland. They don't believe me when I tell them that slot machines, which are in operation in countless towns and villages in Ireland, are actually illegal (and that nobody enforces the law). Most Irish people would struggle to believe that the current maximum legal stake in an amusement arcade is sixpence, or that the current maximum legal payout is ten shillings. Would you believe me if I told you that the entire tax-take from Betting Duty (roughly €50 million per year) goes to the Horse Racing & Greyhound Fund - while the State has never (ever) put so much as one cent into problem gambling services, or even acknowledged that gambling addiction is a public health issue? [It's worth noting that the 2018 budget for the Horse Racing & Greyhound Fund was €80,000,000. This means that, even if you don't gamble, you're still paying for it]
Sometimes I think that our Fine Gael-lead government have been digging out their old Bowie LPs. Perhaps they take inspiration from that immortal opening line: "Pushing through the market square, so many mothers crying. News had just come over, we've got five years left to die in". Maybe they believe that, if they let the Gambling Control Bill fester for long enough, the issues will just go away. The bad news, though, is that Bowie's premonition was wrong. He survived long beyond those five years.
While those of us campaigning for the enactment of fit-for-purpose gambling legislation, want it now - we are prepared to fight for as long as it takes. Ministries change. Governments come and go. That which remains constant is the harm caused by gambling products and services and the impact that it has on individuals, families, communities and the wider society.
As we head towards another General Election. Please consider raising this issue with your local TD. This is the most effective form of lobbying in Ireland. 1 in 10 of us will experience gambling-related harm in our lifetime, either through our own gambling, or that of a loved one.
CEO, Problem Gambling Ireland
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.
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.
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor, Founder.