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'They're not your friend': Warning over bookmakers as Cheltenham festival begins

The Rutland Centre has said they are seeing more people affected by problem gambling.

ADDICTION COUNSELLORS HAVE warned people not to be sucked in by bookies’ promises of life-changing money as the Cheltenham festival begins today.

The racing festival and St Patrick’s Day can be especially difficult times for addicts which can see them relapse. Addiction specialists at the Rutland Centre said this is a particularly chaotic time of year for their services as they see people with drinking and gambling problems present at their facility.

The proliferation of gambling websites, smartphone applications and social media advertising means that for those who suffer with addiction, this time can be “relentless and unwavering”, according to Rutland Centre CEO Maebh Leahy.

This is a very difficult time of year for people with addiction problems. For the next number of weeks, gambling will be everywhere. All you’ll be seeing for the next while will be about Cheltenham. There’s no escape for people. It’s relentless.

While it is tough for those struggling with impulsive behaviour, Leahy added that the government has a responsibility to enact legislation designed to protect vulnerable people. The Gambling Control Bill was published in 2013 and has yet to be signed into law.

While Leahy has praised Minister David Stanton for bringing it to the fore once again, she said the Bill needs to be passed in full and that “a watered-down version” would not suffice.

“We need the control bill to be enacted. It would have the industry behave in a much more responsible way. If we don’t stand up to them now, we’ll be in the same position that we are in now with alcohol. The cost on society needs to be recognised. It’s a multi-billion euro industry. Their profits are huge. Their contribution towards the social cost is minuscule in my opinion.

They’re not your friend. Don’t be sucked in by this promise of what might be, of what could be this dream win. The flip-side is disaster.

Last year, more than 13% of cases the Rutland Centre dealt with were to do with gambling. In the first two months of this year, that figure stands at 30%.

Leahy and her team deal with horrific cases which have seen retired parents use their pension pots to pay off their children’s debts. Other times, parents have had to go back to work to bail their children out.

“We have seen young lads coming in after selling their cars so they could gamble. Their parents would have had to use their life savings to bail them out. People steal from their families, people lose their homes, their families. It can put families through turmoil.”

Leahy added that the Rutland Centre fully respects that many people will drink and bet responsibly and safely, but said it is asking people to acknowledge that there are hundreds of thousands of others who can’t partake without putting themselves and their family members in serious harm.

Online bookmakers use a number of tools to help people control their gambling. Methods include being able to set deposit limits, viewing their account history and being able to ban yourself from the site.

The Rutland Centre will be offering free family support workshops for family members in need of support on 22 March, 5 April and 19 April.

More information can be found here.

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