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We’re Only Seeing The Very Tip Of Ireland’s Gambling Iceberg

DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 20: The Sun falls behind the stand during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and Scotland at Croke Park on March 20, 2010 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

It seems that every week now a new GAA player is coming out with a story of his problem gambling. Oisín McConville set the ball rolling and the stories have been coming thick and fast since.

A disease that is virtually undetectable until it is too late, the gambling bug is rife in Ireland in general. Watch any sports event on TV and the advertisements that accompany it are 90% gambling-based. Online gambling, which is a scourge to society, is subtle and secretive with the damage done behind closed doors. Gambling is an addiction that can be hidden; if someone has a drink or drug problem, it becomes evident in a matter of time.

Someone just playing on their phone could be doing untold damage and, for some reason, this has become a real problem in GAA and young sports people. It needs to be addressed and addressed quickly.

Why young sports people? The buzz that is achieved in their sporting lives can be replaced with the buzz of gambling. Inter-county players – with such a regimental approach to the game today – have a need to blow off steam in some way, and gambling seems to fit like a glove.

Armagh Senior Football Championship Final, Athletic Grounds, Armagh 19/10/2014 Armagh Harps vs Crossmaglen Crossmaglen manager Oisin McConville Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/Andrew Paton
Oisín McConville

Unlike alcohol or drugs, a gambling addiction can be hidden from friends and loved ones. It may seem irrational to the person looking on but to the compulsive gambler, the need to gamble is uncontrollable. They are caught in the obsession that is the need to place a bet.

Compulsive gambling is also a progressive addiction and so, as time goes by, the gambler will feed his or her habit more and more until it becomes all that they think about. If any of this sounds familiar to you or you feel you know someone that may be in trouble with gambling, have a look at the twenty questions listed below. They are the questions printed at the back of the Gamblers Anonymous booklet. Most compulsive gamblers will answer ‘Yes’ to at least seven of these questions.

  1. Do you lose time from work due to gambling?
  2. Is gambling making your home life unhappy?
  3. Is gambling affecting your reputation?
  4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
  5. Do you ever gamble to get money with which to debts or otherwise solve your financial difficulties?
  6. Does gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
  7. After losing, do you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
  8. After a win, do you have a strong urge to return and win more?
  9. Do you often gamble till your last euro is gone?
  10. Do you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
  11. Have you ever sold any real or personal property to finance gambling?
  12. Are you reluctant to use gambling money for normal expenditures?
  13. Does gambling make you careless of the welfare of your family?
  14. Do you gamble longer than you planned?
  15. Do you ever gamble to escape worry or trouble?
  16. Have you ever committed or considered committing an illegal act to finance gambling?
  17. Does gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
  18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
  19. Do you have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
  20. Have you ever considered self-destruction as a result of your gambling?


Compulsive gambling is an illness, a progressive one that cannot be cured but which can be arrested. In order to feed the desire to gamble, a string of traits that are common to most gamblers start to appear. The gambler will generally do anything to get money to keep his or her habit going. Personalities can change; lying and manipulation become second nature. The reason that compulsive gamblers are now more than ever seeking help is simple. During the so-called ‘boom’ years, credit was readily available and the damage being created by the gambler could be covered up courtesy of a top-up loans, credit increases on a card or just the general availability of cash.

With the recession came an end to easy credit and with nowhere left to turn, the gambler had no choice but to come clean and seek help. The lucky ones are the ones that seek and receive help. Suicide is also an alternative that some gamblers choose, feeling that they have no other option. Again, it’s only the lucky ones that find their way into the Gamblers Anonymous rooms or better still into one of the many treatment centres around the country.

The rooms offer a place for someone that wants to stop gambling to identify with others in a similar situation. This helps to understand that they are not the only ones going through this. They can meet people that are in recovery for different lengths of time, people with experience that can advise and share how they managed to stay away from that next bet. Recovery offers a freedom away from the chains of gambling.

Kilkenny gaelic football

The gambler can return to a normal way of living. This may be hard for someone that is not affected from gambling to understand but even a simple task of going to the shop to get a carton of milk can be a serious test for a compulsive gambler. The draw to gamble will often take them away from the shop and into the local bookies.

There is also a need to educate the general public on the problems of compulsive gambling. ‘Why don’t you just stop?’ would be a common question from the person that doesn’t understand the addiction. Unfortunately for the gambler, it’s just not that simple.

In that context, the growth of the gambling industry is alarming. The days of smoke-filled bookies up the side lane are well and truly gone, replaced with fresh, bright-looking shops on the main streets of our towns and cities. Tea, coffee, sandwiches and snacks are now readily available to the punters, the rough and dirty image of the past, just that, a thing of the past. Not only are the bookmaker shops positioned in prime locations but their numbers have also grown steadily – most towns now have three, four and five to choose from.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 08: A few of the odds at a bookies for the Liverpool v Watford game prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Watford at Anfield on May 8, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

It is not the industry’s fault. It is a problem that the individual has to deal with; but, saying that, gambling is an industry that is in your face constantly, whether it be television advertisements or even the buzz of the national lottery when the prize money reaches huge amounts. A few years ago, one could do the ‘lotto’ once a week on a Saturday night. Look at the change now, every night of the week, there is a different game available.

People may find it hard to believe but compulsive gamblers can be – and are – addicted to filling out those slips, panic setting in at the thought of not having their numbers in the draw. The weekly Saturday night draw has been joined by Euro Millions, Monday Millions, bingo and many more games, Easter bonus games, Christmas bonus games, scratch cards – the list goes on and on. For the compulsive gambler, temptation is everywhere and – as with alcohol – is very much condoned by the general public.

The internet means bookmaker can also now come into your home. Bookmakers sites offer the usual horse racing, dog racing, soccer, golf, rugby, snooker and any other sport that you can think of but they also offer a place for those that rather the casino experience. Poker sites are huge as are card games, slot machines and anything that can be found in a casino and more.

Worryingly, the once male-dominated market is now looking to appeal to women. Online bingo and many other games have been created and aimed directly at the female market. Online gambling has the added danger of not actually using real money. Chips in casinos have been used for years so that the punter’s association with betting money is slightly removed. In gambling online, the gambler can only see numbers, with losses accumulated at great speed; the gambling is done behind closed doors, and credit card limits can often be reached in short periods of time. The gambler can create a lifetime’s worth of debt by simply pressing buttons on a computer.

Problem gambling is an addiction that needs to be looked at seriously in this country. If you feel you or someone that you know may have a problem with gambling, there is help available. Gamblers Anonymous hold regular meetings throughout the country that people can attend and be advised on how to manage the addiction.

For spouses, friends and family, Gam-Anon offers a similar meeting, where identification and experience of others are key elements in helping people that are looking for answers and advice on how to help partners, friends or family members on their road to recovery.

The biggest obstacle that the compulsive gambler has is to admit to himself or herself that they do in fact have a problem with gambling. That they are powerless against the addiction and they do need help. If you or someone you know can admit that gambling has them under control rather than the other way round, then they have taken the first step to recovery and freeing themselves from the awful addiction of compulsive gambling.

Fergal Cantwell, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.