#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 10°C Saturday 15 May 2021

'Would you give out free sachets of coke with a newspaper?'

The run-up to Cheltenham can be a very difficult time of year for those with a gambling addiction.

Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

MICHAEL* HAD HIS last bet in November 2008. He spent most of his 20s gambling, before he sought professional help.

Next week will be difficult for him: Cheltenham.

Michael said his addiction “completely wiped out any ambition” he had, with him missing many opportunities because he was “so engrossed in the gambling”.

Every year, he plans to go away somewhere if possible – to avoid the mass coverage of the horse-racing event.

“A lot of guys into horses go to a lot of meetings this time of year … I’ll get a meeting in at weekend.”

Michael said every recovering gambler has to be “on your feet, on your guard” around Cheltenham.

“It takes over bloody everything here. You can’t even watch the news.”

Michael has a serious issue with free bets in newspapers, saying they often start young people gambling and “might woo the odd guy back in”.

I’ve never seen anyone giving out vouchers for free drink or free sachets of coke in newspapers. How come they’re allowed to give out free bets?

Gerry Murphy agrees that free bets are like “giving free alcohol to an alcoholic”, noting that bookies and online gambling sites in have “very seductive ways of hooking in people”.

Horse Racing - The Open Festival 2013 - The Open Sunday - Cheltenham Racecourse Source: EMPICS Sport

Gerry is a team leader at Bushy Park Addiction Treatment Centre, where the people seeking help are “getting younger and younger”. He agrees with Michael that this is a particularly hard time of year for gambling addicts.

“[Cheltenham is] revered really by the Irish media. All the races are on the news. Every work place is running a competition where you pick a horse. It’s a very difficult time.”

As an Irish race we love to gamble and we love a flutter … that okay’s for those who don’t have addictive tendencies.

Gerry encouraged anyone worried about the temptation of next week to “reduce the amount of stimulus that they have coming in” and “avoid triggers” if possible.

It can be a cause of relapse for people. It’s a very dangerous week for them

Gerry describes gambling as a “secret disease”.

He said you “can see the impact of alcoholism or drug addiction, but you could meet someone on the street who has lost their week’s wages and you can’t tell by looking at them”.

Horse Racing - Festival Trials Day - Cheltenham Racecourse Source: Tim Goode

Gerry noted that by the time most gamblers seek help something “catastrophic” has happened such as a large amount of money being lost.

He said this causes “devastation” for many families as “the gambling has to be fed before anything else is”.


Sharon Byrne from the Irish Bookmakers Association (IBA) said that all member have recently been sent fresh leaflets and posters with helplines to distribute in their shops during Cheltenham.

These direct people to Dunlewey Addiction Services, which provides support for gamblers and their families (Freefone 1800 936 725).

Byrne said the IBA holds about two training days a year to prepare bookmakers to deal with someone who has a gambling problem.

She noted that the safety of people working in bookies is also an area of concern.

It isn’t an easy thing to do to approach someone to say ‘I think you have a problem with gambling’. It could infuriate them.

Byrne said that free bets are “almost non-existent”, stating: “They certainly used to be very prominent in newspapers, but they aren’t as much now.”

She noted that the best deterrent for people worried about relapsing is to sign a self-exclusion form in bookies so they won’t be served.

Horse Racing - 2015 Cheltenham Festival Package Source: David Davies

A spokeswoman for Cheltenham told TheJournal.ie that they don’t work in the area of addiction as this is something individual bookmakers do.

However, she said the organisation works with the UK gambling commission on issues such as underage gambling at the festival.

British bookmakers are currently running an ad campaign called ‘When the fun stops. Stop.’

Source: ladbrokes/YouTube

Do I need help?

For gamblers, the ‘Gamblers Anonymous 20 Questions’ is a helpful tool for self-evaluation:

  • Have you ever lost time from work because of gambling?
  • Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
  • Has gambling affected your reputation?
  • Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
  • Have you ever gambled to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
  • Has gambling caused a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
  • After losing, have you felt you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses ?
  • After a win have you had a strong urge to return and win more?
  • Have you often gambled until your last euro is gone?
  • Have you ever borrowed to finance your gambling?
  • Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
  • Have you been reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
  • Has gambling made you careless of the welfare of you or your family?
  • Have you ever gambled longer than you planned?
  • Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?
  • Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
  • Has gambling caused you to have difficulty sleeping?
  • Have arguments, disappointments, or frustrations created an urge to gamble?
  • Have you ever had an urge to celebrate any good fortune with a few hours of gambling?
  • Have you ever considered self-destruction because of your gambling?

If you have answered yes to seven or more of these questions, or your answers concern you, please contact Busy Park Addiction Treatment Centre in confidence on 065 684 0944 or at bushyparkhouse@clarecare.ie

For further information and support visit Gamblers Anonymous, GAM Anon or Dunlewey Addiction Services.

*Michael’s real name has been changed to protect his identity.

Read: No cigarette-style warnings on betting slips … for now

Related: Senator warns of need to stop ‘Lotto junkies’

About the author:

Órla Ryan

Read next: