Tuesday 22 August 2017

Is the time right to derail our gambling supertrain?

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

We have been writing in this paper about the gambling phenomenon for at least 10 years now, so we were happy to see the Claire Byrne Live show telling its viewers about it last Monday.

We have been seeing it not just as "a steam train coming down the tracks", as it was described a couple of years ago, but as a high-speed locomotive that had already arrived at Platform One long before that, having picked up a load of passengers at every station down the line.

Indeed in describing the journey of that proverbial supertrain, we have covered just about everything short of the menu in the dining car.

Although we can today confirm that for all those first-class ticket holders there is now a choice of chicken or fish.

But the Claire Byrne Live show did bring us the testimony of Davy Glennon, the Galway hurler who described his own gambling addiction. And it is always enlightening, if extremely rare, to have someone on a 'current affairs' type programme about addictive behaviour who really knows what he's talking about - for example you could watch these programmes for years on the subject of alcohol, and you would keep seeing all sorts of 'stakeholders' such as the Vintners and the Professors and the Junior Ministers, but no sign of an alcoholic who can make the subject sound interesting because he actually understands it.

Davy Glennon was all the more compelling as a witness to this gambling epidemic, because you sensed that he didn't welcome the attention of a TV audience, he was doing this for the right reasons. And you could still feel uneasy about sharing his trauma as he reviewed the famous fall of Annie Power at the last hurdle at Cheltenham, the fourth and final leg of an accumulator which would have won him €58,000.

But in the contribution of Davy, we see something that can illuminate this matter even further, the fact that of the well-known individuals who have made a public declaration of their gambling addiction, most are inter-county GAA players - Oisin McConville, Niall McNamee, Cathal McCarron and now Davy Glennon have all described the ways in which gambling consumed them, but their prominence in this field is also telling us something about how deep this thing goes all over Ireland.

Certainly they are in the most target-rich area for the betting corporations, they are young men with a serious interest in sport and a fiercely competitive nature.

But there are such men everywhere in this country, even within the GAA you have lesser-known players and players who are unknown outside of their own homes, you have selectors and of course you have "mentors".

You've got an awful lot of people there, and so it is most unlikely that this addiction would be confined to the elite performers.

But the main thing to note here, is that there may be a serious gambling culture going on within the GAA, but that the GAA is also creating a culture which allows these individuals to emerge and to share their stories and to feel that they will be supported.

If the same could be said for solicitors or accountants or even journalists, we might see a sense of urgency in relation to this addiction that would even come to the attention of the Government. Indeed there was an important intervention on Claire Byrne Live by Stuart Gilhooly, President of the Law Society, pointing out that there is an avalanche of advertising coming from the betting corporations - we have indeed noted in these pages that it might be an idea to curtail this or even to stop it, since the ads are being put out there at such a rate, it looks as if the corporations are rounding up every last unfortunate punter that they can, while they are still getting away with it.

Then again the Gambling Control Bill of 2013 has not yet been enacted, so the Government does not seem to share any sense of urgency - it's as if they've been told that for the "overwhelming majority", it's just "fun".

But we should not characterise this as political inertia, it is in truth a positive action in favour of the betting corporations, against the common good. Because for the bookies these are the glory days, internet gambling is the Wild West, and by definition any form of law or rule or regulation will not be good for them.

We might also speculate about other areas of public health in which this "inertia" is going on, but hey, we're too busy here having fun.

And of course in relation to many aspects of addiction, there is not much that any Government can do, but in this case there is one really important thing it can do, it can either reduce the advertising or it can cut it out altogether.

It is now clear to any half-intelligent person that online gambling is a very big deal, that this addiction is leading to all manner of madness, to bankruptcies and divorces and suicides, that this train is indeed no longer "coming down the tracks", it is here.

And knowing all this, for three years, which is a long time in human ruination, the betting corporations have been getting the thing that they crave - no change.

In this, as in so many other areas of their dark trade, they're winning.

Sunday Independent

Also in Business