Sunday 19 August 2018

Lynch returns with thrilling gambling saga

Memoir Tony 10, Declan Lynch and Tony O'Reilly, Gill Books, €16.99

Declan Lynch has written what is an absorbing read on gambling culture in The Ponzi Man.
Declan Lynch has written what is an absorbing read on gambling culture in The Ponzi Man.
Tony 10

Hilary A White

The ruination that gambling has brought to so many lives never seems to get quite the same level of airtime that other social scourges such as alcoholism and drug addiction seem to. The job has been left to the likes of Declan Lynch, who has become one of this country's foremost commentators on the plight of gambling addiction and the lives that it routinely claims.

For an island as bluntly aware of the damage that financial speculation and risk-taking has caused, you'd think it would be much closer to our foreground. And yet, as Lynch has been at pains to remind us, the bookies remains an omnipresent feature of the Irish townscape alongside the pub, social poisons configured through our bizarre national prism as cuddly pillars.

Lynch quietly threads this sub-strata of commentary through Tony 10, a biography of online betting addict Tony O'Reilly who eventually went down for relieving An Post of €1.75m. While we are having fun - and there is spades to be had here - the industry is shown up for what it is and the dark arts it performs to keep the punters addicted to their online betting platforms. These include rewarding "valued customers" - or "big losers", you could call them - to corporate box tickets, free bets worth a couple of hundred euro, and in the case of Tony 10 (O'Reilly's online account name) a personal call to his mobile when the site was undergoing maintenance assuring him that he could phone-in his bets that day.

There is a surging, present-tense rhythm to Lynch's storytelling that gallops at times as heatedly as the horses O'Reilly was staking his fleeting thrills on. Gambling tales often come ready-packaged with a feeling of ruinous inevitability, as if nothing will get in the way of the protagonist's downfall. Lynch is no newcomer to this arena of the damned, and turns a real-life story into an adrenalised roller coaster by immersing us in the quicksand of compulsive betting. The outcome will come in its own good time. What matters is that we understand the seriousness of what O'Reilly - Lynch's friend and co-writer - was doing.

What a downfall we are told of. Lynch paints a picture of O'Reilly as an unremarkable but decent fellow from the Midlands, living with his wife and child in Carlow town and ostensibly seeking the same things from life we all do - happiness, security, purpose. But what began as a single bet of €1 would go on to become an orgy of swinging wins and losses involving four-, five- and eventually six-figure sums being flung about. A macabre undertone emerges from Lynch's expert pen as O'Reilly begins to fall behind and gets trapped in a hamster wheel of debt, trying to win back the money he has borrowed to facilitate the gambling he is obsessed with. Curves steepen. Cold sweats are erased with hot flushes.

One particularly feverish spell sees Tony 10 lose €164,448 in a little over 24 hours. Mind-boggling stuff.

Part of this wholesale breakdown is the divorce from reality that comes when you find yourself throwing away tens of thousands, again and again, on the outcome of some sporting contest.

The figures have lost all meaning. The win that they may return has nothing to do with financial security or what he'll be able to afford for his family. For O'Reilly, as you suspect for most chronic gamblers out there, it is purely about purchasing extra time in "the gambling zone", as Lynch puts it.

But Lynch wants us to know there is hope. As hair-raising as the downfall reads, O'Reilly's story grips to the end as a context of humanity replaces the sweat-browed hijinks. This is not a caper, Lynch says. This is real life.

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