This is a question I admit I pondered recently as I found myself browsing betting websites searching for football matches from the Macao league. However, I take great care to monitor my wins and losses, try to only bet on value games, and make sure it doesn’t interfere with my life. Sadly, there are thousands of people in the UK alone who can’t say the same.
An article by The Guardian back in 2017 cited a report from the UK Gambling Commission which stated that there were at least 430,000 problem gamblers in Britain. Furthermore, it found up to two million people are at risk of gambling addiction. These are troubling figures, especially given how easy it is to bet online.
Then there is the small matter of betting adverts that appear everywhere. It is now impossible to watch a sporting event without seeing some fallen celebrity hawking the services of a major betting firm. Sports like horse racing and greyhound racing only exist in their present form because of gambling; but should betting firms be allowed to rub it in our faces?
We have already reached the tipping point in my opinion. Gambling is now ubiquitous; a far cry from a generation ago when people would clandestinely sidle into a bookmaking shop to place the odd bet. These days, any betting shop I peek my head into in the UK is filled with ‘down on their luck’ individuals, usually in their late teens to early twenties, who lose their money on those wretched Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).
Do I Have a Problem?
Hopefully, most of the people who read this will never have an issue with gambling, but it sneaks up on you quickly. I would surmise that people with a risk-taking personality are more susceptible to the allure of gambling. Interestingly, studies have shown that the pleasure centres in the brain are even more active in the immediate aftermath of placing a bet than when you win!
It can happen to anyone. Tony O’Reilly was a postmaster in Wicklow, Ireland, and his first ever bet was a £1 wager which won at odds of over 40/1. He was in his mid-twenties and had shown no interest in betting before. However, he was enveloped in a terrible addiction that resulted in him stealing from work, losing €1.75 million, and spending time in jail; his marriage also fell apart.
Another ‘ordinary bloke’ named Jason Haddigan became hooked on FOBTs, but only after losing money betting on sports, and three separate prison stints. He came across FOBTs aged 30 and became addicted because the machine allowed you to place a bet every few seconds. He bet hundreds of pounds each time and lost at least £300,000 in total. His addiction also led to four failed relationships and a suicide attempt.
You’ll doubtless read information on problem gambling elsewhere but if you don’t here are a few warning signs.
1. You Will Bet on Anything
I once heard a story about a footballer from the 1970s who would bet £50 on which raindrop would fall to the ground first! (That was a lot of money back then and still is to a lot of people today.) Addicts become obsessed with betting to the point where they begin wagering on whatever sport happens to be on at the time.
In Tony O’Reilly’s book, Tony 10, he provides an in-depth look at what he used to bet on. Aside from well-researched bets, he would bet €20,000 on random tennis matches in the small hours of the morning. If you eschew research and strategy just to have a dabble, you probably have an issue.
2. Gambling Consumes You
Addicts don’t care if a nuclear war has just started, they have to get their fix and to hell with everything else. If you start missing work, or social events because of your gambling obsession, it is safe to say you are in a hole.
One common thread in every story of betting addiction is the breakdown of human relationships. Tony drifted apart from his wife; Jason did the same with every woman he crossed paths with romantically.
3. Chasing Your Losses
This is arguably the trait that lands most problem gamblers in the mire. It is one thing placing a failed bet or hitting a losing streak; it is quite another to abandon your strategy and begin to chase losses. What usually happens is that the addict bets increasingly larger amounts to the point where they lose so much that financial ruin awaits.
Like Tony and Jason, they start stealing to feed their habit. They don’t care if the money comes from friends, family, co-workers, or the cash register of their employer. Addicts always claim they are seeking one more big win before quitting. In reality, this win hardly ever comes, and when it does, they just end up losing it all. Tony lost almost €500,000 in a weekend after winning it all just days previously for example.
When you have a gambling addiction, you prefer if it remains in the shadows. As a result, you start lying to friends and family about the extent of your addiction, and you certainly downplay your losses. In Tony’s case, he was gambling while getting married in Cyprus, and lied to his new bride about it!
5. Gambling to Forget
Addicts tend to bet as a distraction. They may hate their job, be trapped in an unloving relationship, or simply living a life without joy. Regardless, they gamble to forget their worries and escape from reality.
Final Thoughts on Gambling Addiction
We no longer live in an age where a gambling addict will only be spotted in the vicinity of a betting shop. The ease of online gambling means it is incredibly easy to bet on anything you like; from sports to reality TV, there seems to be a market for everything.
You could be living a decent life when suddenly, the betting demon grabs hold of you. Unlike drug addiction, there is seldom any physical sign barring perhaps tiredness from sleepless nights. It doesn’t take long for the illness to take hold and completely ruin your life.
If you suspect that a friend or family member is exhibiting signs of gambling addiction, talk with them and offer to get them help before it is too late. Contact the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133 or check out the Gambler’s Anonymous website.
Unfortunately, the betting industry is horrendously regulated, and bookies don’t worry too much about you. They’ll take your money all day long, but they won’t be there to help you climb back out should you find yourself at the bottom of a hole.
Wes Burns has more than a decade’s worth of experience as a writer, researcher, and analyst in the legal online betting industry and is co-founder of OnlineBettingSites.com. Wes approaches his work from the viewpoint of players.