Tuesday 19 February 2019

Our gambling epidemic has its Liveline moment

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

They were on Liveline for five days, these people describing their experiences of gambling addiction, either their own or that of family members, such as the son who committed suicide, the father who messed it up for everyone, the ones who found a solution in Gamblers Anonymous, the ones who didn't.

We heard of desperate tragedies and of dismal little scenes, like the betting shop employee trying to cajole punters into opening an online account by giving them free bets of €10, the listener almost feeling sorry for the employee who himself seemed to be under pressure to meet a target.

But to be hearing about any of this stuff on Liveline, for five days, is significant. I am certain that they would have no trouble filling the show for five weeks with such testimonies, but five days is still a decent indicator of something big lurking under the surface.

Then again, the previous week, the bookies got a few days out of a story of the type that they are always putting out there, the one about the punter who had a modest few bob on a football accumulator, and who somehow ended up winning a six-figure sum.

In fact, he had two accumulators, of €10 and €20 respectively, and on the first day the story concentrated on this agonising choice he had to make, whether he was going to "cash-out" for €33,000, or hope that Crystal Palace beat Bournemouth away, which would see his accumulators racking up a win of €132,000.

Ah yes, these are the great decisions which confront the everyday punter, whether to take the €33,000 or hang on for the €132,000. The betting corporation, which supplied the story to the papers in copious detail, had its spokesman speaking of his own emotional involvement in it, many readers too were asking themselves if they would have the nerve to hang on for Palace, or if they would take the money already on the table, and run.

Yes, those jolly fellows in the betting corporation may have been fretting publicly about the potential hit they were going to take - but really they were winning this one in a common hack canter, as they say.

They were getting a load of free advertising for the sort of betting markets that they themselves spend enormous amounts of money promoting, these accumulators and other outlandish propositions aimed at the client who just wants a bit of "fun" - and doesn't mind losing nearly all the time to get it.

Moreover, the corporation was getting a big splash for its "cash-out" option, and in this particular bet there had even been a "justice payment", when the bookie paid out on a Barcelona win - even though Barcelona had only drawn the match (they had a goal wrongly disallowed, and the corporation felt it simply could not let such an injustice stand, that it cried out to the heavens for restitution).

The punter held his nerve, Crystal Palace beat Bournemouth 2-0, he collected his €132,000 and the bookies collected their own "winnings" from the seemingly endless pot of free publicity that the media has made available to them - they got three cherries on top in a recent case when another of these stories of an heroic accumulator made it into the papers, and then triumphantly on to It Says In The Papers on Morning Ireland.

Against this, I would write an article every few months in this paper on the dark side of this cynical trade, and there are occasional items by journalists on radio or TV - but, given the size of the phenomenon, it never seems enough. A number of well-known people, mainly GAA players, have told their own stories of gambling addiction, and now we've had the five days on Liveline.

Which, like I said, is significant, as long as you bear in mind that in the time it took you to read that last paragraph, the betting corporations worldwide would have been wheeling out another shed-load of paid advertising, of sponsorships of individuals and of teams and of entire sports which effectively they have come to own.

It is colossal in scale and it is relentless, and if anything, these Liveline moments will only sharpen their lust for more punters to be reeled in before the wretched regulators make things a little more awkward for them.

Until then, they will keep pumping out their tales of "ballsy betting", and I will keep drawing attention to people like this punter friend of mine, who had a somewhat different dilemma to the man wondering whether to take the €33,000, or to shoot for the €132,000.

This punter had an accumulator too, quite a large one in fact, because he had already "accumulated" such gambling debts, he found himself at his own wedding celebration waiting on the result of the Epsom Derby to find out if he could pay for it.

You won't see him in the advertising, perched on the edge of the bed in the hotel room, imploring the baleful gods for deliverance from the madness he had brought on himself.

And actually he won that bet, his accumulator came up, he was able to pay for the wedding after all. He lost the marriage though, in time, and he lost his job, he lost everything really.

For him, there was no "justice payment".

'The Ponzi Man' by Declan Lynch, published by Hachette Ireland, is out now in paperback.

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