Thursday 14 December 2017

They're off! Gambling addicts fly out to avoid Cheltenham

Dr. Fiona Weldon
Dr. Fiona Weldon


A GROUP of gambling addicts jetted off on a golfing trip to Portugal last week in a desperate attempt to escape the lure of Cheltenham.

For race fans, the five-day race meet in the Cotswolds is the Mecca of the sporting calender. But spare a thought for gambling addicts, for whom the blanket coverage of Cheltenham on TV, radio, newspapers and social media is nothing short of torture.

The proliferation of gambling on social media and online has made it virtually impossible to ignore unless recovering addicts make a concerted effort to switch off their phones, computers and televisions and not read the papers during the festival.

And the lure for recovering gamblers is so great that some were forced to leave the country to avoid temptation.

The Sunday Independent has learned that one group of 20 addicts went on a golfing trip to Portugal to escape the racing festival hype.

The group are members of a Dublin chapter of Gambling Anonymous (GA), which this weekend said gambling addiction has already reached "epidemic proportions". According to GA, there are now tens of thousands of gambling addicts attending its counselling sessions each week in virtually every town across Ireland, including 18 venues in Dublin alone.

And addiction counsellors are bracing themselves for a flurry of calls this week from tapped-out gamblers during the traditional post-Cheltenham "hangover".

Dr Fiona Weldon, CEO and clinical director of the Rutland Centre addiction clinic, said the weeks before and after Cheltenham is a busy time for its out-patient and residential treatment programme for gambling addiction.

"After big events like this there are always those who have hit rock bottom," she told the Sunday Independent.

She said high-profile racing fixtures such as Cheltenham are particularly toxic for gambling addicts and those at risk of re-lapsing from an addiction. "There's no escape, anywhere. It's very much in your face," she added.

One recovering addict said he struggles every day even though he has not placed a bet in 21 years.

The 68-year-old Co Kildare resident, who worked as a racing stud manager, first went to Cheltenham and the age of 17 and was soon gambling on horses every day for 25 years until he realised he had a serious problem when his marriage was on the verge of collapse.

Because he wasn't earning a lot of money in his job, he didn't lose tens of thousands of euro like most gambling addicts.

But working in the horse-racing industry only fuelled his addiction because it was around him every day.

"The monkey was always on my back – and still is," he said. "For us, every day was like Cheltenham and you're just as vulnerable after 21 years as a guy who has only been off the bet for a week."

The recovering addict said he still can't watch any racing on television and struggles during Cheltenham every year, when he says he forces himself to keep busy to keep his mind off gambling.

"I'm just grateful I'm where I am today," he said.

"If I was 30 years younger today, with the internet and all the various kinds of gambling out there, I'd be looking at a very sad life on my own or on my way out."

Sunday Independent

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