With the Cheltenham Festival recently taking place, many of us fancy a flutter on the horses. For non-regular punters, it all seems to be nothing more than a harmless bit of fun. For others, it is a lot more than that.
According to statistics on GambleAware.ie, approximately 12 per cent of Irish adults bet with a bookmaker weekly and two per cent of Irish adults gamble online, with less than one per cent of those who need treatment actually receiving it.
Former Armagh captain and two times All-Star Oisin McConville is one of many high profile names to have spoken publically about his gambling addiction. Speaking exclusively to The College View, McConville said:
“You get drawn in and you start losing. You start chasing money and it becomes a vicious circle at that stage, you feel it’s something you need to do, you get a buzz out of winning, you get a buzz of just putting on a bet and then there’s no buzz, you are just addicted and you still don’t stop.”
Indeed, Ireland seems to be a gambling nation, with just under half the population playing the Lotto each week. In 2012 alone, National Lottery sales were €734 million, and although many would not consider buying a lottery ticket gambling, McConville emphasised how menial games such as bingo can lead to serious gambling addictions.
“We’ve got a completely different dynamic now; we’ve also got housewives and people like that coming into Gamblers Anonymous because of bingo and things like that. There are so many more things to gamble on and because of that we’ve got more problems and we are exposing more people to it.”
The ability to gamble online has increased numbers going to Gamblers Anonymous meetings, but McConville also touched on how large audiences watching sporting events are heavily exposed to a gambling atmosphere, and how it’s difficult for people in a similar position to McConville to stay clear of gambling related sports.
“Cheltenham is not just back page news but front page news, and it’s very hard for people in my position to avoid. No matter what sporting event you watch it’s all surrounded by gambling, we’ve got so many sponsors whether it be darts, horse racing or football; every sports event is saturated with gambling.”
In fact, when walking through most towns in Ireland, it is difficult not to spot at least one or two bookmakers located within walking distance of a main gathering point of the town. However, McConville says that he looks at the positive side of things when he sees these constant reminders.
“It helps me. From my days of gambling I don’t have a lot of good memories. Most of them were destructive and were memories of pain and suffering for me. You get so far removed that you feel sorry for the people still out there who are going down the path that really only has one end. It didn’t matter if it was Ludlow, Wolverhampton or Cheltenham, I was a gambler and I wasn’t in it for the sport. I didn’t particularly enjoy the horses; I was purely in it for the punt.”
Although events such as Cheltenham are mainly seen as harmless bets, there is always a danger that the buzz of excitement can consume the person and lead them down the same dark path McConville went down.