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Column ‘I’d lost over a grand gambling by 11 on Christmas morning’

A casino might close – but online gambling goes on all the time, everywhere. Former addict Marc tells why it’s worse than drug addiction.

I WAS ALREADY in recovery from drug addiction when I started gambling. It started off as just a game of cards with other people who were in recovery – just a leisurely thing where we all paid €50 each and had a game of cards. Up to that point, I hadn’t gambled since I was a child playing poker for 50p pieces. I wasn’t into it. Going out dancing and drinking and drugs, that was what I was into. I thought gambling was just a waste of money.

Then I started playing with the lads. It was a Christmas that we played that first game, and it just rollercoastered from there. We started having a game once a month, and then it was twice a month, and then it was nearly every weekend, a different house.

Within the space of two years, I would be playing maybe three or four times a week. Because I wasn’t drinking, I wasn’t using any more, I could justify spending 200, 250 each night. And that’s how it was for a long time. Then we started going to a casino in Maynooth. And that’s just another level. A card game ends, but the casino never ends. The first night I was there, I stayed for about 12 hours. And I was hooked. This was the Celtic Tiger time when you probably had three or four credit cards, and I was just going out to the machine over and over, taking out 200, 300.

Then I stopped going to drug recovery meetings. I stopped being around the lads who were also clean. And I got into online gambling.

The online took me to terrible places. Worse than any drug ever took me, or any drink. It’s the most horrendous addiction of all. Because every house has a computer. And I started getting comfort from just sitting on the computer. It became like a drug. I just wanted to do it by myself, I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I’ve got three kids in the house, I didn’t even want to know about the kids –. So you’ve young kids running around, and I’d just have the earphones on. I’d just be listening to music, and I’d just be gambling.

‘The gun was put to my head’

Christmas morning, for me, was getting up – and before I even started opening the kids’ presents, the computer would be on straight away. To me at the time that seemed normal. I remember I’d lost over a grand, and it wasn’t even 11 o’clock on Christmas morning.

It becomes about just winning money to gamble more. It’s not ever about walking away with money, because you never walk away with money. Even though I would have won money, I would have won big. I won a grand on one hand, and that would have been big money for me. That was the good times. But because of the bad times, it probably cost me three or four grand to get that grand. You’re never winning.

I was forced to stop. The gun was put to my head, and I was told if you don’t do something about this, we’re gone. The kids are gone, I’m gone, the relationship’s over. I had gone back on the drugs at this stage as well, because I wasn’t able to handle how I was feeling about the whole thing. And I had debts, so many debts. I still have them. I’d remortgaged; I had three or four credit cards maxed out. And I realised that I was going to lose everything if I didn’t stop.

I’m nearly 30 months off it now. I started going to fellowship meetings. I went back to Narcotics Anonymous and got clean, and I went into a clinic, and my life has turned around again.

I got a block on the computer. It’s a one-off thing, and once you put it on, it can’t be taken off it the computer. There’s no passworsd, there’s no nothing. It completely stops you from accessing anything to do with gambling. It’s so strict that my wife can’t do the online shopping, because the word ‘slot’ is in it – you book a time slot for your shopping.

‘It was harder than coming off drugs’

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. When I started going to meetings first, I was lucky enough to meet the right people. There was a guy who was a year ahead of me, a year clean, and he gave me his number and said ‘ring me anytime’. I must have rung him every day for about a year. I was obsessed; I couldn’t understand. It was like the illusion of love. I knew in my head that it was destroying everything around me; that I was going to lose my wife; that my relationship was in shite. I owed a fortune, and I was ruining everything.

But I still kept wanting to do it. I kept thinking, if I get back on it, I can get the money back. I genuinely believed that if I could just get back on it for a few hours, I could get the money back. It’s this lie that they sell. It was harder than coming off drugs.

The first couple of months were really, really, really difficult. I was on the labour at the time, and I used to go and collect my money, and just hand it all over to my wife. I had to give over total control. Laser card, everything. I don’t carry around money. I don’t associate or hang around anyone who gambles, or even talks about gambling. I’ve got to mind myself around that stuff.

I still go to meetings, probably two meetings a week. Yes, I’d love to be able to gamble again. But I know from continual checking in with people I help, and who help me, that it’s not a runner. I’ll lose everything, and I’ll go back to where I was again.

Marc did not want his full name to be used. As told to Michael Freeman.

If you think yourself or someone close to you could have a problem with gambling, the Gamblers Anonymous website is here. You can also call their phone numbers around the country – 01 8721133 (Dublin); 087 2859552 (Cork); 086 3494450 (Galway); 086 2683538 or 086 3973317 (Waterford).

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