To the gamblers in the room,
“There is a huge problem in society with gambling at the moment,” says Sean a recovering gambling addict. Sean has been heavily involved in Gamblers Anonymous (GA), and claims that attendance at some GA meetings had “doubled, if not trebled” in the past year, with the age-profile getting younger — “there would be lads aged 18 or 19 coming into the room”.
With the proliferation of smartphones, and ease of access to place a bet in between classes, an increasing number of secondary schools have asked GA representatives to present to their students, in order to increase the level of awareness around gambling addiction. GA representatives have also increased its number of visits to prisons around the country, often at the request of the inmates themselves. Sean believes it is possible that some people jailed for petty drugs offences may have taken to selling drugs to help pay for gambling debts.
The Addiction Story:
Sean knew there was something seriously wrong when, one day some years ago, he found himself betting on the outcome of a beach volleyball game.
It wasn’t the first time he had placed peculiar wagers, in what had become a scatter-gun approach to gambling. What started at his local greyhound track in his early teens, had escalated to the stage where he was “addicted to Teletext”, constantly seeking updates on sporting events, and ploughing cash into bets on sports that he had no expertise in. “Mainly racing, Moto GP, soccer...” or anything that caught his eye, until it became common for him, to place between 80 and 100 bets a day.
For years, he believed he had his gambling under control and freely admits that at times he had “loads of money”. “The big thing for me was not the money though,” he says. “It was gambling away my mental health.”
The situation, as it so often does, changed dramatically when he began to chase his losses. At the end of one year, he owed as much as €35,000. A year later, it was more than double that amount. The situation had reached a crisis point when he lost his job and found himself in a lonely and unending mountain of debt. The debt piled up and the borrowing to bet grew and grew until he was in debt to the tune of tens of thousands of euro with no hope of paying it back.
For Sean, it wasn’t until he visited the doctor and broke down that the realisation struck him; lying to friends and family, chasing losses, issues at work — it had all taken a massive toll and “the penny just dropped” he said.
The work in progress:
A cocktail of factors has helped Sean get his life back on track, but it is a slow process that continues to this day. Sean clearly admits that without due focus and resilience, he would be at risk of relapse. GA meetings, negotiating debt repayment options with the people he owed money to and the support he received from others, reduced his sense of isolation and desperation.
“For the first six months, I just stopped gambling but I wasn’t changing my ways,” he says. Attending more meetings led to a more holistic approach to how he was living his life and conducting his relationships. “You have to keep going to your meetings because if you stop, it could become attractive again,” he says, adding that he attends meetings three or four times a week, mostly at lunchtime.
“You do not look up Teletext or the web, you stop hanging around with other gamblers, you cannot buy a scratch-card….” Sean detailed his vice, “Me, I was addicted to Teletext. When I came into GA, I came home and the only button I could see on the TV remote control was the Teletext button. It was like a beacon.” In the end Sean got a pen knife and cut it out of the control. It may sound drastic, but he believed he had no choice.
An unregulated future for gambling:
The growth in gambling here in recent years mirrors a trend in the UK. In addition to a greater number of shops, online betting is a modern-day phenomenon, creating jobs and pumping money into the economy. As far as Sean is concerned, the origins of the money is at the heart of the debate over gambling. He claims that bookmakers do not make massive profits on people “betting on the Grand National”. Rather, it is the compulsive gamblers that plough their money into the sector.
The reality like all addictions is that it is not rational or logical. Without a directive or action plan on tackling the phenomenon it seems that there will continue to be an increase in attendance at Gamblers Anonymous meetings with the median age of attendees getting younger and younger.
With a highly profitable indigenous company, being a gambling organisation and making pre-tax profits of 166.6 Million Euro in 2014, a government driven action plan for the gambling industry seems to be a long way off. A gambling control bill that was proposed in 2013, seems to have been forgotten about by our politicians. Like most things in this country, it may well take a major national scandal, for legislation to be drafted, and to appropriately give gambling addiction the proper attention it deserves.
Sean’s own life has steadied remarkably in recent years, and over these years, the debt has been whittled down to a fraction of what it was. “Every month, the money goes out it is a reminder that you never want to get into that situation again.” He highlighted some of the key indicator questions that should be asked, to identify the difference between enjoyment and addition:
Here are some questions that compulsive gamblers often answer ‘Yes’ to, which can also be found on the Gambling Anonyms website (http://www.gamblersanonymous.ie/index.html):
- Do you lose time from work due to gambling?
- Is gambling affecting your reputation?
- After losing, do you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your loses?
- After a win do you have a strong urge to return and try to win more?
- Do you often gamble until your last euro is gone?
- Do you gamble longer than you planned?