Gambling, the Hidden Debt

Gambling online

The problem of gambling addiction has soared in this country in recent times. Since the Celtic Tiger years, there has been an increase in the number of people who gamble, with the ease of access of online gambling being cited as a contributing factor to the rise.

The age profile of those with a gambling addiction has also lowered. One of the country’s largest treatment centres, Tabor Lodge, has reported a 50% increase in those aged between 18 and 35 seeking help over the last two years. “We used to see gambling addictions among older men, but gambling is now becoming more of a young man’s activity,” said Mick Devine, clinical director at Tabor Lodge.

NewsFour spoke with Eimear Guiney, money advisor with MABS, Dublin South East (DSE). “A Gambling addiction is different to other addictions in the sense that it is much harder to detect than abuse of alcohol or other substances. From a DSE MABS perspective we come across gambling debts through our interview process, while preparing budgets, a creditor querying gambling sites on bank statements or indirectly through a family member/friend contacting the service regarding gambling debts that they may be linked to. Clients presenting with this issue come from all walks of life and all ages, as young as 18 and upwards, and are predominantly men.”

Eimear continued, “Aside from the financial strain of gambling debts, and it can be considerable, there are also the emotional and psychological aspects such as feelings of guilt, shame, suicidal thoughts and self-harming. Clients’ gambling habits can have a huge strain on the clients’ relationships with family, friends and even employers. In severe cases there may even be an element of criminality and criminal convictions.”

Guiney told NewsFour that an appointment with MABS is often the first step on the road to accepting that a problem exists and in accessing the other relevant services.”

What follows is a typical story, encountered by MABS advisors, of how this problem can gradually encroach on normal life.

Denis began gambling at a very young age. He was only 17 when he first went into the local bookies and placed a bet. The whole experience was very exhilarating and he continued to place a bet every Saturday. Denis was quite a successful gambler and he and his friends found that it was an easy way to supplement their lifestyle while they were going through college.

As Denis turned 21 and began to hold down a regular office job he began to make and lose lots of money simultaneously through betting. His gambling had now moved from the local bookies to betting online. However, he felt that he was in control and knew what he was doing. At work there was also a culture of online betting amongst his colleagues and betting/poker was a popular topic of conversation at breaks and lunchtime in the canteen.

Over the next few years Denis and his girlfriend decided to move in together and take out a mortgage. They were now expecting a baby and there were a lot of costs involved in setting up home and the desire to have everything perfect for when the baby arrived.

Mabs Logo large

Denis had always concealed his gambling from his girlfriend. In fact, nobody knew about the extent of his gambling because it was now all done online, he didn’t have to be seen walking into a bookies. He felt a huge pressure to maintain and upgrade to an even better lifestyle with luxurious holidays, cars, property for him and his family.

From his late teens Denis was always the one with the money and even on some occasions when without, he always managed to be the extravagant spender and very generous friend. He needed and wanted at all costs for this to continue, this was his identity, his image and reputation.

Denis, by now in his late twenties, felt the situation begin to slip from beneath him. Gambling was all he could think about, it was his world, all-consuming. Everything else – his wife, baby, family and friends were down the priority list.

He owed family members and a few work colleagues money. His best friend had loaned him his deposit to bet on a ‘sure thing’. An anomaly had also happened with a betting account he had and on looking at statements he now owed much more money that he had ever thought. By this stage he had exhausted all his avenues for money.

His situation was worsening by the day with legal letters coming through the door for his substantially overdrawn account. He continually avoided his work colleagues, eating lunch out and taking sick days, which was beginning to come to the attention of his employers. The ultimate blow was when his best friend demanded his money back and threatened to tell his wife about the reality of their situation.

With the continuous threats looming over his head and his inability to think about anything else but his need to gamble, his addiction was now really affecting him physically and emotionally. He was constantly in a state of anxiety and physically exhausted. The secrecy and lies were killing him.

Household bills were now very much in arrears, along with missed mortgage repayments. This put a huge strain on his relationship with his wife. He had managed to play it all down for the last few weeks with little white lies, he told himself. He was in dread about what would happen if she found out about the other debt and his gambling. However, what disturbed him more was that he was continuously lying to her – would she ever trust him again? Denis now had continuous daily thoughts about self-harm.

It all came to a head when his wife found a letter from the mortgage company with a threat of repossession on account of the arrears and a failure to respond to them. She phoned the mortgage company and they referred her to MABS – the Money Advice and Budgeting Service. They both attended the service together. Throughout the interview it became apparent to Denis the extent of his debts and how his gambling, which he now admitted was addictive, was ruining his life. With the help of a Money Adviser he was referred to Gamble Aware and he began to get the treatment he needed.
For information help and support see the services listed below

Gamble Aware and their
national helpline 1800 753 753.
Gamblers Anonymous.
Cuan Mhuire.
The Rutland Centre.
The Samaritans.
The Spellman Centre, Irishtown Road. Ph 01 667 7666.

By Eimear Guiney
Introduction by
Maria Shields O’Kelly