The next time you find yourself working through lunch in the office, look around. Chances are there are colleagues at their desks, clicking a mouse or jabbing at their phones. Chances are that they are placing a bet on a horse, a match, or a fight. Or, they might be playing poker, predicting who will win a talent show, or enjoying virtual slot machines.
Gambling, once mainly the preserve of men with perhaps too much time on their hands, is now one of the fastest growing addictions on the planet. Male, female, young and old have picked up the secret habit and why? Because it’s all just so easy.
There is believed to be 40,000 people in Ireland who have a gambling addiction. More than 40% of Irish adult population plays the National Lottery regularly and approximately 12% of Irish adults bet with a bookmaker weekly. We gamble over €5 billion a year, which is €10,000 per minute, every day. Just stop and think about that figure – no wonder Ireland has the third highest per capita rating in the world for losses in gambling.
The most popular method in Ireland is online gambling, with almost half of gambling losses coming from it. No furtive trip to the bookies is required (although many patrons, particularly older gamblers, prefer the sociability of the transaction face-to-face) so you can place a bet at the touch of a button or screen. It’s easy, quick and very private.
Set up an account, already in credit with an opening sweetener or ‘free’ bet – and away you go. With so many major sporting events sponsored by betting chains, special deals to download apps and the advances of social media targeting, it’s no wonder young adults and teens are most at risk.
Sport betting is the most popular form of gambling in Ireland and with the start of the GAA Championship, as well as the Champions League and FA Cup finals on the way, there will be a surge in problem gambling – and a huge amount of this will take place online. It’s easy to see why, the temptations are absolutely irresistible. Let’s take a look:
If someone’s coming to work hungover every day, you’ll soon spot it. The physical effects of substance abuse, or alcohol abuse, are pretty obvious to friends and family. The problem with online gambling is that you can play at work, at home, or even on smartphones without anyone being aware that they are actually gambling. That’s why it’s become known as the ‘secret addiction’.
A very important part of gambling addiction treatment is having a strategy to avoid playing. For traditional gambling, this generally means avoiding the bookies or casinos but with online gambling, avoiding this temptation is much more difficult. Every computer with internet access (whether it is at work, home, or somewhere else) becomes a virtual bookies, awaiting the next bet.
Oh but it is…with online gambling, access to one’s bank account/the joint account/the mortgage account/the savings account/the children’s education fund is always only a click away – which makes the likelihood of impulse betting and “chasing losses” much greater compared to locations where one must physically withdraw money from an ATM, wallet, or even a back pocket.
Online, it is sometimes easy to forget that electronic money is still real money. Players can also use credit cards to deposit money into an online account that they can access as funds inevitably run out. That credit card statement becomes very real a few days or weeks later.
Ask people with substance abuse addictions and they’ll often tell you that they were offered drugs to try for ‘free’ and were shocked at how fast the addiction took hold.
One of the most common temptations used by online casinos and betting chains is to offer a ‘free-to-play’ version of their games. The goal is to introduce new players to online gambling and make them feel comfortable placing real bets with real money after they have had some success with the free version.
And how do internet gambling websites make sure that new players are successful? Simple, the odds are inflated to favour the player when he/she is gambling with play money. By doing so, the player incorrectly assumes that the success they had with the free version will translate into success when using real money. Of course, the odds change in favour of the house as soon as real money is involved.
Whereas traditional casinos and betting shops may be able to ban problem gamblers, there is little to prevent a compulsive gambler from accessing online gambling sites at will. Online gambling sites typically do have policies on restricting access (for example to underage players and to those who have voluntarily banned themselves), but their ability to actually enforce this is debatable. Furthermore, a player banned from one site can simply sign up at another with just a few mouse clicks.
You might think you are playing against others online, a community of likeminded people you never have to actually meet. It’s escapism at its finest when the real world is too daunting, too unfriendly, too difficult. Virtual gaming leads to virtual friends, right? Wrong.
Some online gambling websites use computer programmes to represent what one may believe to be real human players. These ‘poker bots’ may be programmed for both optimal play and/or to increase the amount that the human players are actually betting.
Another common technique involves collusion between online poker players. That is, several players are actually in the same physical location and are sharing information to give them an advantage over other players.
It is commonly accepted that individuals with one type of addiction often have others as well. This may be an addiction to alcohol, illicit drugs, pharmaceutical drugs used for non medical purposes, or other type of substance. Just because someone gambles, however, doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to be addicted to something else, but the patterns of behaviour are already established.
Online gambling also allows players to place bets after heavy consumption of drugs or alcohol – all factors which can increase both the duration of time spent gambling and the amount of money wagered.
Seek help and take the initiative. You don’t need to go through this alone. There are thousands of others out there who are in the same situation. Start with your GP, who can recommend and refer you to appropriate treatments and services. Or give us a call at Tabor Group and we will guide you through the various options for residential treatment.
If you are experiencing some of these symptoms or you believe a loved one is, Tabor Group can help. With decades of experience in dealing with gambling addiction, you will be in safe and confidential hands.
Tabor Group is a leading provider of residential addiction treatment services in Ireland. We provide support and care to hundreds of clients suffering from addictions to alcohol, substances, gambling and eating disorders. For more information on Tabor Group’s services click here.