Tuesday 18 December 2018

So problem gambling is just a GAA thing, right?

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The way it's been going, you'd think that the only people in Ireland with a gambling problem are GAA players. And not just any GAA players, but the best of them, inter-county stars such as Oisin McConville and Niall McNamee and Davy Glennon and Cathal McCarron, all of whom have come out to describe their problems with gambling, and who as a result have contributed much to the greater good.

Last week in Nenagh circuit court, Tipperary goalkeeper Darren Gleeson was said to have a "significant gambling problem", there were bank statements which showed "a very large number of transactions in favour of Paddy Power", as he received a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence for obtaining €10,000 by deception from an elderly man, when Gleeson was director of a financial services company - though he wished to clarify that he "never asked for money for gambling".

Gleeson has been in counselling since 2015, when he started that process of recovery which will hopefully enable him to move away from the bad place in which he finds himself at present, a situation made all the more baffling given all the good places in which Gleeson otherwise finds himself.

Like his fellow GAA players who are emerging from the closed world of the problem gambler, in many other aspects of his life Gleeson is a roaring success, "an exceptional employee", an all-Ireland winner and an All-Star, one of hurling's great goalkeepers - there is often no way of telling that a punter is struggling, until the inevitable disaster brings it all out.

But thankfully, it seems to be mainly well-known GAA players who are given to this compulsion, so we can just park it there at "headquarters" in Jones' Road and let some sub-committee sort it out, right?

Oh, and there's a few Premier League footballers as well, multi-millionaires who can probably well afford it, right?

And there was that chap a few years back, name of Tony O'Reilly so you'd remember it, the post office manager in Gorey who had a turnover of €10m in his Paddy Power account. But that was a bit of a one-off, right?

A couple of solicitors too, in fairness, have been in front of the judge, and a few lads who worked in financial institutions who, oddly enough, were not inter-county footballers or hurlers. But you'll get these difficult cases, right?

I'm even aware of a few media personalities who have perhaps got in a little too deep on the "in-play" markets, when the blood is up, but they are just having a bit of fun, right?

Not right.

Not right at all, I am sorry to say. There are a few reasons why famous GAA players are featuring prominently in these dispatches - the leadership given by men such as Oisin McConville with their testimony, the progressive approach of the GAA as an institution to this problem which they are coming to realise is ubiquitous, the fact that competitive young men who love sport are probably the most vulnerable of all potential "marks" for the online bookies.

But there are a lot of sports other than Gaelic football and hurling, which are loved by competitive young men, and even by competitive old men, and competitive women too, who are being inveigled in particular into casino games online. And for all the players who have told their stories, we may be sure there are others who haven't quite got there yet. For all the cases which have reached the courts, we may be sure there are others pending, and others that are just being born in the minds of increasingly desperate individuals.

It could not be otherwise. In a culture inundated with advertising and promotion of all kinds, if you are in any way vulnerable, if you are inclined to lose your way at all in this labyrinth, you have no chance of escape, not a prayer. And gambling is not just a powerful compulsion in its more traditional forms, online gambling is a more powerful form of it than anything yet conceived by Man - and Man has been working on this for a very long time.

Indeed so complete is the triumph of the betting corporations, such is their effective ownership of so many sports, the other week the English Football Association announced that it was discontinuing its sponsorship deal with Ladbrokes - a move which was supposed to make a statement against the normalisation of the betting culture, but which mainly drew attention to the fact that the governing body itself in 2017 was still taking money from the bookies, suggesting it will be a gargantuan challenge to uncouple the gambling industry from the game in general.

Not that there is any need for that, according to some in that industry. They say that you'll get a small percentage of punters who can't handle it - oh, "about one per cent", if that - and that for everyone else it's a relatively harmless recreation.

About one per cent? If we extrapolate from those who have already declared an addiction to gambling, making the reasonable assumption that at the current rate there'll be a few more along soon, the percentage in terms of leading GAA players alone would suggest something a little north of that one per cent.

Indeed when you consider the extra-terrestrial profits they are making, if bookies can still stand up there calling it at one per cent, truly they are capable of anything.

Sunday Independent

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