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.
Strategic Planning Survey Results
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.
Friday 10th Feb 2017: Problem Gambling Ireland CEO & Founder, Barry Grant speaks to Joe about the fact that Ireland is 3rd in the world for gambling losses. Callers discuss the fact that some pubs are taking bets and phoning them in to bookmakers (probably illegally). More on the direct communications and up-selling of National Lottery products, which appears to be in breach of the licence regulations.
Listen here: http://rte.ie/r.html?rii=b9_21129305_53_10-02-2017_
Thursday 9th Feb 2017: More listeners tell Joe that they are asked if they want to buy a lottery ticket when they buy petrol from Topaz. - Mark is a former gambler. He talks about how he quit.
Listen here: http://rte.ie/r.html?rii=b9_21128596_53_09-02-2017_
Wednesday 8th Feb 2017: Gambling has taken its toll on Tommy and Kevin but they are in recovery. Denis is, to all intents and purposes, a professional gambler.
Listen here: http://rte.ie/r.html?rii=b9_21127795_53_08-02-2017_
Tuesday 7th Feb 2017: Stories of gambling addiction and recovery.
Listen here: http://rte.ie/r.html?rii=b9_21127097_53_07-02-2017_
Monday 6th February 2017: Patricia rang Liveline when she found out that her 15-year-old son had lied about his age in order to set up an online betting account. This prompted callers from around the country to share their experiences of gambling addiction.
Listen here: http://rte.ie/r.html?rii=b9_21126459_53_06-02-2017_
It seems fair to say that we live in interesting times. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail's "love that dare not speak its name" has finally come to fruition; a serial-bankrupt, day-glo builder has been selected to rule the world; and a sports-show, funded by a betting firm, discusses gambling addiction three times over the course of one week. If you've been preparing for The Rapture, it's probably time to put on your Sunday best.
The sports-show in question is Newstalk's highly-popular Off The Ball. Last Sunday (27th November), they began their series of discussions with Declan Lynch. Declan had written an article in that day's Irish Independent, entitled: "Is it the right time to derail our gambling supertrain?" Declan has long been at the forefront of raising awareness around gambling addiciton in Ireland and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to highlighting some of the questionable practices of the gambling industry.
At the time, I thought that this was a brave, if somewhat tokenistic move, on the part of the show's producers. Imagine my surprise when, just a few days later (1st December), Ger Gilroy interviewed recovering gambling addict and Tyrone footballer, Cathal McCarron, on the same show. Ger begins by saying: "I think that it's incredibly important that we talk about gambling addiction and about the industry, as well, particularly as, in the sports media, we have a very close relationship with the betting industry and sometimes that can be uncomfortable for us. On a personal level I have seen the devastation that gambling has wreaked on families and on careers." Ger goes on to show himself to be sensitive to, and knowledgable about, the harm caused by gambling addiction.
Just when I was beginning to think that Christmas had come early - ALL of my Christmases came together. This manifested itself in the form of a third discussion on gambling addiction on yesterday's show (3rd December). The panel discussion included Declan Lynch, as well as addiction treatment specialist, Dr Garrett McGovern and recovering substance addict and poker afficionado, John Leonard (AKA, Sober Paddy). The discussion was wide-ranging, intelligent and nuanced. They covered everything from harm-prevention and harm-reduction to the pros and cons of the 12-step treatment model, gambling advertising and the "gamblification" of sport and the sports media. [By "gamblification", I mean the process by which the gambling industry has embedded itself into sporting bodies and media organisations by getting them hooked on their cold, hard cash.]
By the end of the week, I had to take a long, hard look at myself. This no longer looked, sounded or smelled like tokenistic box-ticking from Off The Ball. In fact, this had the whiff of a group of people who might actually genuinely care about the harm that is caused by gambling in this country, while also struggling with the fact that they (and many of their colleagues) are overly-dependent on gambling industry funding.
As an addiction counsellor, I am always looking out for dysfunctional "Black & White Thinking" in my clients. This sort of binary thinking is often a strong indicator of the type of cognitive distortions which can lead to addictions and other issues. "Life is lived in the Grey", I can hear myself saying, over and over again. However, when seeing the harm caused by gambling and other addictions on a regular basis, it can be easy to slip into a Good Guys vs Bad Guys mindset - or, in other words: "If you're not with us, you're agin' us!".
As I work through my own internal conflict on this one, I have to commend Ger Gilroy and the rest of the Off The Ball team on grappling with the Horns of their own Dilemma. It can't be easy to watch the increasing harm caused by gambling in Irish society, while at the same time deal with the financial realities of commercial radio. At least by acknowledging that the "close relationship" can be "uncomfortable" for them, they, to my mind, are making a step in the right direction. As workers in the addiction field will often tell you, "The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem".
Discussion on gambling starts around half-way through the clip.
Here Comes Another "Helltenham"
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 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.
In 2013, the Heads of the Gambling Control Bill were published. The purpose of the proposed legislation is to replace the out-of-date and un-fit for purpose, Betting Act 1931 and the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. The proposed legislation seeks to regulate gambling in order to ensure:
All of these proposed measures would be welcomed by Problem Gambling Ireland, as the current vacuum in legislation only serves to create an environment where gambling-related harm can thrive. A dedicated Gambling Regulator with the power to press criminal charges against gambling licence-holders who breach the proposed laws would greatly reduce some of the sharp practices currently in evidence. Also, a Social Fund, into which gambling licence-holders would be compelled to contribute, would greatly increase the provision of dedicated gambling addiction services in the areas of treatment, prevention, education, research and evaluation.
However, the response from one of Ireland's Gambling Industry heavy-weights, Paddy Power, may be indicative of the general attitude to the proposed legislation within the industry. In their submission to government in relation to the Heads of the Bill, they stated "We are concerned however by the proposal to apply the contribution to the Social Fund based on turnover (Head 80) given the intense international competition for online gambling and the narrow margins which generally apply for gambling products. We would encourage the Department to explore models from other jurisdictions that have similar systems in place which are working effectively, for example the UK where operators contribute voluntarily to the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) on a flat rate based on scale". It is worth noting that only 63% of gambling licence-holders in the UK actually contributed to the fund in 2014/2015 and that they raised the paltry sum of £6.5 million from an industry which posted profits of of £1.42 billion in 2013 from Fixed Odds Betting Terminals alone. Paddy Power's pre-tax profits for 2014 were €166.6 million.
Surprisingly, Paddy Power, who are renowned for pushing the boundaries in their advertising campaigns, also took issue with the Department of Justice's proposals in relation to advertising and sponsorship. The gambling giant would prefer Codes of Practice and Codes of Conduct in gambling advertising (which already exist) rather than primary legislation. Paddy Power give the following example: "a failure to remove online promotional material within 12 hours could trigger a summary prosecution and sponsorship of an adult sports team which has one 17 year old player would infringe Head 74. We would respectfully query if such granular restrictions would be workable in practice.". I have no doubt that Paddy Power and other gambling industry members would have some difficulty with any restrictions, granular or otherwise, as it limits their ability to actively encourage problem gambling (which generates up to 75% of gambling industry profits in some jurisdictions) and to (inadvertently) promote gambling to children by advertising before the watershed and through sports sponsorship.
Some facts on gambling in Ireland and globally:
On behalf of the estimated 240,000 people in Ireland, whose lives are negatively impacted by gambling-related harm, all of us at Problem Gambling Ireland ask that the new Government act quickly to enact the Gambling Control Bill.