Saturday 15 December 2018

Miggledy is right - betting apps are a bloody scourge

Dismayed: Michael D Higgins has voiced concern over gambling apps
Dismayed: Michael D Higgins has voiced concern over gambling apps
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

If I'm perfectly honest, I don't have a lot of time for our President's brand of politics.

He seems a man stuck in political aspic; a remnant of the time when, say, the Sandinistas were everyone's favourite revolutionary group, when the Soviet Union was seen as better than the USA and people still clung to the notion that communism was a really good idea if only someone could just do it right.

Then there is his awful waffle. In fact, he's a man who has brought waffle to new and previously unthinkable heights through his innovative idea of repeating platitudes in both English and Irish - and they say men can't multi-task?

Having said that, I voted for the man, and his appallingly ignorant tribute to Castro was the only time I ever regretted throwing my vote his way.

That misstep aside he is, undeniably, a decent man, and his job is to mostly make us feel a bit better about ourselves.

As it happens, and rather improbably given the differences in age and political philosophy, we even have some mutual friends in common, and any of the times I've briefly met him down the years he comes across as that rare enough thing - a good egg.

Even so, I always feel it incumbent upon myself to disagree with virtually everything he says, usually because it's just gobbledygook.

And yet I have to give the man fair credit for his latest intervention in matters social, even though it also makes me a bad libertarian.

While the gaze of the nation has been drawn towards the gallery of emerging Presidential wannabes, Miggledy (as he is known to some) came out against betting ads in sports.

Speaking on RTÉ's Sunday Sport, Higgins expressed his dismay that betting companies have now virtually colonised sports advertising and sponsorship and he added, for good measure, that: "I'm very concerned about gambling [in sport]... If I had my way I wouldn't have advertising of any access to gambling platforms in sport at all. I really worry when I read cases of people who have come through gambling problems... It's not for me as President to do something, as I've no influence except to say what I think."

This is the bit where I'd normally steam in, all guns blazing, condemning him for treating adults like children and removing the individual's right to make their own mistakes.

But the crucial bit of his statement, and it's something which some people seem to have missed, was that he wasn't talking so much about gambling ads per se, as the scourge of gambling apps - two very, very different propositions entirely.

I'm probably lucky in that the one compulsion I never developed was the worst one you can get - the gambling bug.

It just never appealed to me.

In fact, decades on, I still have a childhood memory of dragging my schoolbag on the ground behind me, coming home from school and wincing at the sound of the horse racing on the telly as I walked up the path.

I had an uncle who liked the gee gees and that experience worked as a form of aversion therapy, I suppose.

But even back then, people who wanted to gamble had to go to their local bookies.

They had to at least make the physical effort to go out and lose all their money.

These days? Well, as we now know, these days you just open your favourite betting app on your phone and hey presto, before you've even copped what's going on, you've just landed yourself in debt.

Unlike other addictions, there is no point at which you're simply physically incapacitated and incapable of continuing your binge - I once saw a guy lose a grand on his phone in the time it took for him to order a round. A round, needless to say, that he then couldn't afford.

Most of the people I know like a flutter, whereas I've only ever been inside a bookies on one occasion. But therein lies the real and obvious danger of these apps - people who would never dream of setting foot inside a betting shop can wager away to their heart's discontent on their phone.

Betting apps are a smart but fiendish invention for betting companies.

After all, many punters go to their local pub to watch the big games so you have the perfect storm of booze, the excitement of a massive match and the usual slagging and one-upmanship that comes whenever you're in a group.

Frankly, under those conditions the surprise isn't that so many people use their phone as a mobile betting shop, but that more people don't.

Nobody in their right mind would want to ban gambling - after all, far more people enjoy it as just a bit of fun than ever end up in the gutter.

But the idea of having such ready and easy access to betting is one which, only a few years ago, would have seemed insane.

Should we ban these apps?

I honestly couldn't call for something like that, and we should always be aware of the law of unintended consequences - once you start banning one thing you don't like, the dams open.

But they're a pretty foul invention, and an unnecessary one at that - people could still gamble their lives away before these apps came along, after all.

So, fair balls, as it were, to the President I reluctantly voted for.

He's finally come out and said something I agree with, however grudgingly.

Well, even a stopped clock is right every...seven years, I suppose.

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