When it comes to racing in Ireland, the odds are that someone, somewhere, is losing money they don’t have, for reasons they probably don’t even understand. Racing isn’t alone in this respect, and is certainly not the root of the problem.
It is the impunity with which gambling companies act, preying on the vulnerable through the creation of false ideals and the provision of false hope, that has seen a damaging gambling culture take hold in certain sectors of Irish and British society.
Gambling is a lucrative business. Land-based gambling alone was valued at €1.7 billion in Ireland 2007, and this figure has no doubt grown in the interim. Gambling companies continually pump money into increasingly omnipresent advertising. When even David Cameron, not a known advocate of market regulation, criticises gambling firms’ “aggressive” advertising techniques, you have to ask what damage these companies might be doing to society (another concept Herr Cameron might struggle with).
The tactics these companies use to attract new customers are terrifyingly similar to those utilised by heroin dealers. The tale of the dealer offering the first hit for free is embedded in the public psyche to the extent that it is almost clichéd. Gambling companies have no issue with this tactic, and they remain free to use it.
Whether you are a student, on some form of social media, or simply a newspaper reader, it is likely that you have been offered a “free” bet at some stage in your adult life. To avail of this offer, it is often the case that a punter will be required to set up an account with the bookmakers. Many may choose to never access this account again.
The bookmakers leverage this likelihood against the possibility of return custom from others which will ultimately see the bookmaker profit greatly from their offer of a “free” bet. They know that, for some, once they have been enticed into the web, they find it impossible to escape.
It is not in doubt that they do cause untold damage. Amongst the supposed last bastion of Irishness, the GAA, an increasing number of players face gambling-related problems, with 7% of GPA members seeking help, as a result of gambling-related issues.
Two high-profile players, Oisín McConville and Offaly’s Niall McNamee have spoken openly about the damage gambling caused in their lives. Outside sport, Declan Lynch has crusaded to tell the tale of former An Post manager Tony O’Reilly, who stole €1.7m from his employment to feed his addiction, with Paddy Power reaping the rewards.
Paddy Power invited O’Reilly to the Europa League final as their guest. Gambling firms pay little heed to the damage they cause, and any analysis of their advertising techniques highlights this fact. Young men, their primary targets, are bombarded with the benefits of gambling, whilst being convinced it is somehow conducive, and even essential, to their lifestyle.
Ireland can now claim to be the home of “social betting”, thanks to Boylesports subsidiary BragBet. A group of friends can now “Bet, banter and win as a team”, or rather, bet, bicker, and lose as a team. The original idea was, according to Silicon Republic, “to get groups of friends together to engage in social banter.” It must be this bonding aspect which convinced the FAI and Connacht Rugby to partner themselves with the blissfully banterous, betting site BragBet.
Perhaps the most flagrantly vulgar example of this technique is the recent “Ladbrokes Life” series of adverts. Andy May, their retail marketing director, explained that “Ladbrokes understand you, knows what you like and how you bet.” Whoever “you” are, Ladbrokes thinks you spend your day making bets before downing lager with your gormless peers in a provincial Wetherspoons.
Ladbrokes certainly understands that men such as their character “Brightside” make them a lot of money. His relentless positivity allows him to continue throwing cash at them, despite the fact he’s likely had little more than a tin of beans for dinner three nights this week. In a final insult these men are deemed “the dreamers, the glory-seekers,” placing their vices on some twisted pedestal.
Meanwhile, Betfair have cornered the market of “in-game” betting, where the desperate are convinced that they can recoup their losses on the very game they lost it on. Turn on Sky Sports and it’s almost impossible to avoid Ray Winstone’s floating head appearing on screen. His dismembered head encourages spectators to “Geddonit”.
The language used is circuitous; with punters never directly urged to place money on a bet. Being told to hand over your cash, as opposed to “have a bang on” an event, might make them think twice. Thinking twice would be a good idea when listening to Ray, for his “tips” were found to have a one in twenty-five success rate in May 2013.
Gambling advertising has gone too far. Not only is gambling becoming easier, through websites and apps, but we are being encouraged to do so on an increasingly regular basis. OFCOM figures in Britain have found that gambling advertising on television has risen year-on-year since a relaxation of laws in 2007, making up 4.1% of all ads in 2012.
In the 2009 Champion’s League group stage AC Milan and Real Madrid faced off, with both sides’ jersey bearing the logo of Bwin, one of the world’s largest online gambling firms. When phone company O2 sends discriminate text alerts to their customers alerting them to the odds for England v Uruguay, then we must acknowledge that something is amiss.
Alcohol can ruin lives. Narcotics can ruin lives. Cigarettes can ruin lives. Gambling can ruin lives. One of these things is not like the other. One of these things, it seems, can be ignored. One of these things has been given a free reign. We know these companies damage people, yet we allow them to peddle their wares anywhere they wish.
Eoin Hallissey, Pundit Arena.