Monday 18 December 2017

Taking any bets on gambling being banned?

Luck of the Irish: Racegoers in fancy dress channel their inner leprechaun at Cheltenham this week.
Luck of the Irish: Racegoers in fancy dress channel their inner leprechaun at Cheltenham this week.
Tightening margins: Newspapers
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

I don't know if you noticed or not, but this is Cheltenham week.

Yup, it's the week when people who would never normally darken the door of their local bookies fancy a bet and more than €140m will have spent by punters in the last week.

Frankly, the appeal of the whole thing is lost on me.

Of all my myriad and crippling personal vices, I've managed to avoid the gambling bug.

Maybe I'm just too mean to hand over money that I will never see back, although I reckon it's part of my vestigial Catholicism - there's still some part of my brain which refuses to believe there could be such a thing as free money.

Having said that, most of my friends will have placed a flutter or 10 in the last few days and some will be up, some will be down and I know at least one lad who will go through his now annual routine of tapping us all up for a few quid so he can pay his bills.

I've always looked on horse racing as simply a case of a bunch of midgets whipping horses for the entertainment of rubes. In other words, it's not for me, but I see the appeal.

But apparently that means I am not sufficiently cognisant of the dangers and, dare I say it, evils of gambling.

You see, this being Ireland, we can't have a week of betting without experiencing a collective fit of the vapours and portentously pondering just what it means to be Irish and whether we have a chink in our psyche which makes us predisposed towards gambling.

Several items appeared on TV this week featuring the usual talking worthies, who like to lecture us on our failings, all warning about the dangers of betting. But here's the thing - nobody knows the dangers of betting more than a gambler.

After all, it's not just the search for free money that attracts punters, it's also the adrenaline rush that comes from knowing you're risking more money than you can afford to lose.

That may seem hopelessly daft and self-destructive to those of us who don't have the gambling gene, but that's human nature - we are hard-wired, on an evolutionary level, to engage in risky behaviour because, well, to the victor go the spoils.

So, should we ban gambling as a result of the bad choices of the few?

A few years ago, such a suggestion would have been laughed out of the house, but we live in an age of prohibition, where people's first response to something they don't like is to reflexively demand that it should be banned.

That some people slip through the net and ruin their life is undeniably unfortunate but here's the bit that nobody wants to mention - they did it of their own volition.

They weren't hapless victims of rapacious bookies. They weren't victims of anything other than their own bad choices. Don't get me wrong, I'm not judging anyone with an addiction and you don't have to be a moaning Minnie to see the obvious pitfalls posed by mobile-phone gambling apps.

But we live in a world where people are allowed to make free choices and some people will always, always make the wrong choices.

The way to combat that is not to call for more prohibition but to remind people that in age of freedom they have to also accept that, yes, they are also free to make their own bad calls.

Former Gaelic footballer Oisín McConville is a perceptive and interesting commentator who is also a gambling addict and even he admitted that the "people need to take ownership" of their gambling issues.

Imagine that? A world where people own their own mistakes?

It'll never catch on....

Banning books -  ah bless,  it's almost quaint...

The week that's in it, it was inevitable that the Irish were going to get a little nostalgic.

After all, this is our national week of drinking and betting (see the main piece) and, coinciding as it does with the Centenary of the Rising, we were always going to be bombarded with thoughts about how the golden olden days were just that little better than the ones we have now.

So step forward the Censorship of Publications Board, which reminded us of the joys of those more innocent times when they banned their first book in nearly 20 years.

I don't know whether The Raped Little Runaway is any good or not, but that's the whole point - by making it a crime to purchase or distribute the book in this country, the Censorship of Publications Board -comprising a solicitor, a former cop and someone whose expertise is apparently a BA in Tourism - has ensured that we're not meant to know.

I suppose I should be vaguely outraged by such a move.

After all, this is a decision which manages to insult every single adult in this country who has just been judged too stupid to read the book without running out and raping children. But it's hard not to laugh at their naivety. Do we now, in this age of decapitation videos and torture porn, really want a bunch of nobodies deciding what is 'suitable' material?

Apart from the quaint absurdity of the decision, anyone who volunteers to be on a board like this is exactly the kind of person who should never be given any power over us at all. But thanks to the board for reminding us they actually exist - now we can get around to scrapping them.


Tightening margins: Newspapers

If you're thinking about getting into journalism, I have one word of advice for you - don't.

Not that I don't welcome the competition (although there's something weird about talking to young journalists knowing that one day one of them will probably be my boss), but this is a dying trade.

It's sad but it's true and as one of the last hacks to come through when newsrooms still rattled to the sound of typewriters being hammered as the printing presses rolled beneath us, I sometimes worry that I'll also live to see the day when the last newspaper is printed.

As margins tighten and even the idea of getting paid for your work becomes increasingly unfashionable - and if you work for nothing, you're part of the problem - hacks have had to reach for ever-more desperate ways to make a living.

Like the unnamed freelance journalist who approached a company with the view to doing a business profile - for a fee of £300.

This breaks every single convention of journalism. You may not like what you read on this page or anywhere else in the paper, but at least you know it hasn't been secretly paid for. Once you break that convention between journalist and reader, then all the trust is lost and our trade really is dead.

But £300? Could have got at least a grand...

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