Wednesday 28 September 2016

We are finally catching a glimpse of the invisible gambling monster

It hasn't reached 'critical mass' yet, but more people are becoming aware of this hydra-headed phenomenon, writes Declan Lynch

Published 01/05/2016 | 02:30

'It hasn’t reached ‘critical mass’ yet, but more people are becoming aware of this hydra-headed phenomenon.' (stock picture)
'It hasn’t reached ‘critical mass’ yet, but more people are becoming aware of this hydra-headed phenomenon.' (stock picture)

I think it is fair to say that I've taken an interest in the gambling boom, particularly in the rise of online gambling.

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Over the last 10 years, I have written many articles on this hydra-headed phenomenon. I have written books touching on this theme, the non-fiction Free Money which appeared in 2009, and the novel The Ponzi Man which is soon to be published. And while I always felt that eventually there would be a lot more interest in this subject, for the most compelling reasons - the casualties are mounting all the time - these days I can sense that interest is getting stronger.

For example, I am writing this in the context of a series of articles which this newspaper group is undertaking, on this thing which in some places is being called an epidemic.

And it could hardly be any other way. When something is invented that offers unlimited access to a form of entertainment that is both enormously enjoyable and highly dangerous, there will be consequences.

And I use the word "invented", because if there is one thing to be understood here, it is that the online version is not just a modernised form of gambling. It has blown the old ways out of existence to such an extent, that it can be seen as an entirely new form of addiction. Never before has there been a more perfect synergy between an addiction and the technologies which enable it. When gambling met the internet, it all kicked off into some other dimension in which the betting never stops, and the punters can get involved in ways that used to be unimaginable.

So we are hearing more of this talk from troubled parents about how kids are using their phones to bet, as if this was strange. If these kids had been given much indication that there might be some downside to this, then they might be expected to exercise a little more caution. But since they are living in the proverbial Wild West, in which online gambling is so out of control they can't even figure out a way to tax it properly, the young can be forgiven for just cracking on with it.

Nobody knows for sure where this is leading, but we may expect some carnage along the way, piled upon the carnage already out there, these stories we are seeing every week now, of some poor devil who was swept away by the fever and is being sent to jail for robbing half-a-million. We are still hearing statistics in relation to compulsive gambling that seem to belong to some prehistoric era in which you had to go to a lot of trouble to have a bet. Yes, incredibly, there was a time when society took a view that gambling should be made a bit inconvenient. A time when most betting was on horses, not much on football or darts or the next person to be voted off I'm A Celebrity..., to keep you going.

We can only speculate on the magnitude of this obsession. Certainly it has invaded the public con­sciousness to such an extent, in a perverse way, we can't see it any more. At this stage, do we even notice that so many football matches on TV are flooded with advertising for the betting cor­porations? Do we notice that a bookie might sponsor an event on a TV channel which, in the case of Sky, has its own betting service found via the red button?

We are talking here not about some form of entertainment, but about something akin to a world religion. It is the energy that is driving so much of our culture, we are hardly even aware that discussions of politics and economics and current affairs are inundated with endorsements of it.

But I think it is about to change. That more people are starting to notice these things that are so big they have become invisible.

Sunday Independent

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