An Elvis Presley impersonator has opened up about his addiction to gambling which once saw him lose $17,800 on a single bet in Las Vegas.
Mark Leen from Tralee Co. Kerry revealed that he battled with a compulsion to gamble since with was a child until he finally sought help in 2012.
“I suppose gambling was a hot topic in the bar I went to when I was younger... a hotbed called The Rock in Tralee.
“I would go to the greyhound track a lot when I was younger. We would have been behind the sheds playing pitch and toss. Then I became a runner for the bookies and that’s exactly where the gambling psyche developed,” said Mark speaking on Ireland AM.
The performer moved to London when he was 18 and revealed that he would find himself in kebab shops at 4AM, having lost all of his money on poker machines.
“I was like the frog in the hot water. You don’t realise you’re getting boiled. I worked to gamble. I remember working in London I was getting £295 a week in 1989 as an 18 year old. It was great money but I was sitting in Kebab shops until four in the morning going home without any money because it was all spent on poker machines,” he said.
When his career as a Elvis Presley impersonator took off, Mark admits his gambling habits became even worse. Despite selling out huge Irish venues, the performer revealed that all he really wanted to do was spend time in the bookies.
“I was selling out venues like the Cork Opera House and the INEC. But throughout that whole time all I wanted to do was go into the bookies the next day.
“I lost $17,800 on one spin in Las Vegas. I remember time was suspended and the ball was clinking around until it landed on number 13. Just like that it was gone,” he said.
Mark revealed that his breaking point came in 2012, when he went in to a bookmakers in Tralee with €165 and came out having lost over €8,000.
“I went in with €165 to waste away an hour. I said I’d bet small and after three hours I was down €8,375. I came out and got into the car and the song that came on was ‘Everybody’s got to learn sometime’ and I cried. I prayed for God to help me. I went back to the bookmakers and did a rosary outside the door at 4AM looking for help. I knew I had to stop,” he said.
The Kerry-born performer sought the help of Gamblers’ Anonymous and has recently written a book ‘Viva Lost Wages’ about his experiences with addiction.
“I got help in Gambling Anonymous. Today you can gamble online 24/7 all day in your underwear while your wife is asleep in bed.
“I know gamblers who have committed suicide because they couldn’t face up to the debts and the delayed consequences of their actions.
“You don’t have to gamble your way through Christmas there are fantastic resources and centres out there,” Mark said.