Could it be you?
Gambling has often been described as the hidden addiction but according to a Gamblers Anonymous spokesperson you could fill Croke Park with the amount of compulsive gamblers in Connacht. The problem is also growing in Mayo. Rowan Gallagher investigates.
A ‘HUGE’ increase in young people who have become addicted to gambling all over the west of Ireland is being attributed to online gambling, according to Gamblers Anonymous.
Younger people are especially at risk of becoming compulsive gamblers with online gambling taking a hold of them from a very young age, and adding to the problem, Gamblers Anonymous have noticed that young people are less likely to reform.
“It’s not like years ago when people used to be physically handing the cash over the counter, now it’s all just clicking buttons on the computer and young people are burning through an awful lot of money,” a west of Ireland spokesperson for Gamblers Anonymous told The Mayo News last week.
“About 20 years ago a person might come in and they would attend meetings for ten years but now we see young people coming in for maybe a week or two and then they are gambling again,” the spokesperson added.
“A gambler doesn’t just destroy themselves - they can take a large number of family and friends with them. You could fill Croke Park with the amount of compulsive gamblers in Connacht alone,” he concluded.
The organisation feels that it is going to get even worse in the future and that the marketing of gambling is getting more sophisticated, drawing even more young people in.
Gamblers Anonymous do not keep statistics on clients and were unable to furnish exact figures to The Mayo News that there has been a substantial increase in people coming to them with gambling problems in recent years.
“It is one of the worst diseases there is around and I have personally been in contact with five people who have committed suicide as a result of being a compulsive gambler,” the spokesperson concluded.
Castlebar Town Councillor and Mayor of Castlebar, Ger Deere, who is involved with a number of youth organisation in the county town, has expressed his worry about the recent trend in gambling among young people.
“I’ve seen the destruction that is caused when someone has a gambling addiction. I would be worried that people are finding it hard in these economic conditions and are hoping for a bit of a win to help out. I would have reservations about the whole gambling thing in general with young people,” said Cllr Deere.
John, a young Mayo man (whose name has been changed for confidentiality) went through the Gamblers Anonymous process. He claims that he was a compulsive gambler and that he often bet his last Euro during the height of his addiction.
“My first serious bet was on the World Cup. I would have been about 26 at the time. I had placed this bet online with my credit card. I bet on a correct score and it won. I and two of my friends started to gamble on football every weekend from then on.
“I am addicted to everything about casinos, but especially the buzz of winning. Blackjack for me is a very hard and fast game custom designed for an addict like me. From the first moment I walked in a casino I was totally addicted. It fed into every insecurity I had as a person,” he said.
John noticed that his addiction was getting worse when he was getting down to his last Euro in casinos and still gambling it away.
“Here was a place I did not feel lonely in and it made me feel good inside. Here was a place that took away my worries. I was totally out of control. I continued to gamble and my rock bottom started to get lower and lower. I lost respect for myself and would often gamble right down to my last Euro,” John concluded.
Fine Gael spokesperson for Social Protection, Deputy Michael Ring voiced his worry to The Mayo News last week, saying that young people are particularly vulnerable and have fallen into the trap due to not being employed.
“Just last week I was talking to a woman who works in a bookies’ and I asked her if it was quiet these days with the recession but she said no, not at all. It’s actually more busy, younger people, smaller bets but a lot more of them, the young people are trying to pass the day.
“They want to work but can’t get jobs and are killing time. There has always been a major problem. Something has to be done and the Government have a large issue on their hands here, people can bet on horses in America in the middle of the night now online. I am calling for a total review of betting legislation,” concluded Deputy Ring.
Dr Fiona Weldon, Clinical Director of The Rutland Drigs Rehabilitation Centre, Dublin, who deals with people who have gambling problems, believes that it is important to understand why you are a gambler and that people are complex individuals.
“It is important to understand that gambling is addictive, it can become uncontrollable. Basic psychology shows that the patients becomes desensitised to the losses due to the frequency and will continue to play due to intermittent wins. It is like a rat in a maze, if you give him a switch to pull and food falls, he will continue to pull the switch even if the food doesn’t always fall.
“There are two types of gambler, the ones who engage to distract themselves from life and those who do it because they love the buzz of gambling. We have had young males coming in here with debts of up to €500,000,” Dr Weldon concluded.
Gamblers Anonymous host two meeting ever week in Mayo. Every Tuesday at Hope House, Main Street, Foxford and at the Social Services Centre, Castlebar every Friday at 8.30pm. If you think you have a problem do not hesitate to call Gamblers Anonymous on Dublin 01 8721133, Galway 086 3494450 or visit www.gamblersanonymous.ie
Online firms like Betfair and Betpack have put the squeeze on small bookmaking firms.
Challenging times for local bookies
WHILE there has undoubtedly has been an increase in widespread gambling, small Irish bookmakers are increasingly finding it difficult to operate in what they term an ‘unfair playing field’.
The decrease in popularity of horse racing betting and the draw of internet bookmakers has seen many small operators having to close their doors.
Major firms working on economies of scale are squeezing out small competitors with deals that aren’t necessarily better than the small institutions, according to The Irish Bookmakers’ Association.
“Independent bookmakers provide more value in their betting but the bigger operators have deals that aren’t necessarily good deals for punters,” said Sharon Byrne of The Irish Bookmakers’ Association.
According to the organisation, the massive advantage of online betting and betting with mobile phones, provided by the major bookies who do not pay Irish tax on their online profits, is making a competitive market even harder to make money in for Irish outlets.
“You don’t even need to go into a bookies anymore, you can simply place a bet on your mobile or at home on the computer, these bets are not subject to the same tax that the shop bookies are,” she concluded.
John Stagg operates an independent bookies in Ballindine. He told The Mayo News last week that business has fallen considerably since the start of the recession.
“There has definitely been a decline since the recession, the fellas betting hundreds of Euro are now only betting maybe €20. People used to gamble as a pastime, they simply don’t have the money anymore and putting food on the table is a lot more important. The lads on the building sites with their pay packets on a Friday don’t have jobs anymore.
“Most of my trade would be a passing trade, where people might get a tip on a horse, place a bet but they might never come back into the bookies again. It is hard to compete with the likes of Ladbrokes and Paddy Power, they can offer an array of specials which independent bookmakers just can’t compete with,” he concluded.
Mr Stagg takes bets on local GAA matches and has local knowledge which allows him to give odds for matches that the bigger bookies won’t offer any prices on.
There are a total of 33 bookmakers in Mayo at present, employing 165 people. Nationally there 288 shops, employing 6,440 people.
Casino culture comes to Castlebar
The new Card Club in Castlebar has brought casino gambling into the heart of the county town’s Main Street.
Martin Silke, born and raised in Castlebar, and now one of Ireland’s most successful poker players, is now the face of a gambling emporium on the Main Street of Castlebar, which is located in the old Halifax Bank building.
The poker professional hasn’t had to work for over three years as a result of his skills in the card game of Texas Hold ‘Em.
The Castlebar man has tournament winning of over £400,000 over his short career which was sparked from games he played in his pub.
“I haven’t had to work really for about three years. My biggest win was definitely the GUKPT where I won £200,000, it was a £1,500 buy in tournament. I think the game (poker) is worth playing, but the main issue is for people to play within their means and control their bank roll. Not many are really addicted to poker but they can find themselves addicted to things like scratch cards, the lottery and other games,” the professional gambler told The Mayo News this week, while in the middle of a tournament.
When asked if he was addicted to gambling he jokingly said ‘no comment’.
The Castle Card Club is open until 5am every night except Tuesdays. The premises does not serve alcohol but does give out alcohol for free to customers, along with food and other beverages. Customers usually tip the waitress for her service.
Martin Silke won a €12,000 package holiday to Singapore and a ticket to a large tournament some years ago in an €11 online poker game - and “hasn’t looked back since”. He started playing in a pub he ran a number of years ago and this is where he crafted himself as a poker player, moving on to bigger tournaments over the years.
Many large towns around the country now have their own ‘card clubs’. The current legislation states that in order to run such a premises it must be classed as ‘a private members club’, where people sign up on the door in order to play the games.
Castle Card Club will be bringing a ranked European poker event to Mayo on February 24 next year which will see 300 poker players check into Breaffy House for the registration event, one of the first of its kind ever in Mayo.