In an interview on RTÉ Radio One last Sunday, President Michael D Higgins said he was in favour of banning the promotion of betting in sports.
“I’m very concerned about gambling for example, which if I had my way, I wouldn’t have advertising of any access to gambling platforms in sport at all,” he said. “I really worry when I read cases of people who have come through [gambling problems].
“I visited the Hope House in Mayo recently who have been a great assistance to some people who have got over what is, hopefully, a terrible temporary problem. I think in a way we should protect our sports by keeping them free from this kind of stuff.”
A couple of days later, a Kerry councillor admitted that he has been battling a gambling addiction. John Francis Flynn from Killorglin opened up about his betting and alcohol problems this week in the hope that others might learn from his mistakes.
A number of high profile athletes have done the same in recent years but despite all these case samples highlighting the perils of gambling, and all these pleas for reform, the situation in this country seems to be getting worse, not better. Online gambling has made it so easy to get sucked in and once you’re in, it can be difficult to get back out.
Sports and betting are intrinsically linked and being involved in sports my whole life, gambling is something that’s always been there in the background. And in Killarney, which is such a sports mad town, betting, and talking about betting, is rampant.
“Who are the favourites?” is a question I’ve heard asked, and asked myself, in the build up to countless games down through the years. From a young age there’s an understanding that the bookies are a reliable source of information when it comes to analysing sport (which perhaps shows how foolish we are in thinking that we can beat them).
I wouldn’t be a big gambler myself but I do enjoy the odd bet on a soccer or football game. My betting would be sporadic and the sums involved small. It can add another element of excitement to the occasion and it’s nice when you get it right but, realistically, the house always wins eventually.
Casual gambling like that might not seem like a big deal but, as with anything, some people get hooked. A fiver on a soccer accumulator can quickly turn into 20, which can turn into 50, and next thing you know you’re talking about hundreds or even thousands of euro.
From the outside it’s easy to say, “Jesus, that’s mad money,” but it’s like telling a fella he’s drinking too much. It’s a genuine problem and it’s not something that’s easily fixed. There is definitely a culture of betting in Ireland and there are people suffering as a result.
Ads for betting sites are everywhere: TV, online, on billboards and on jerseys… Everywhere you turn you’re being urged to put on a bet. This normalisation of something so problematic is wrong in my eyes. How can you tell a young person to avoid gambling when their favourite player is running around with a betting company plastered across his shirt?
We’ve reached the stage where up to the minute prices are displayed on electronic advertising hoardings at Premier League games. Even if you have no interest whatsoever ever in gambling, you can’t get away from it. For some people all it takes is one bet to set the wheels in motion. And for those who already gamble heavily, the last thing they need is further invitation to put on a bet.
Gambling advertising isn’t as highly regulated as alcohol and tobacco advertising but the president is right, it should be. The effects of smoking and drinking might be more conspicuous but gambling addictions can be just as harmful. I don’t think removing ads from sporting events is the silver bullet but it would be a step in the right direction.