Oisín McConville on Problem Gambling“We are talking about people who are gambling their last cent.” 

As heard on Today with Sean O'Rourke

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Oisín McConville, former Armagh footballer and recovering gambling addict told Seán O’Rourke on Thursday that he doesn’t blame the gambling industry for his past behaviour, but he thinks they could do better under current circumstances. With sporting fixtures cancelled, McConville is critical of what he sees as attempts by the industry to entice people to gamble on manufactured events like the recent Virtual Grand National. Oisín also criticises media coverage of the virtual horse race by mainstream media outlets, including by RTÉ.

Now working as an addiction counsellor, Oisín was not happy with the running of a virtual horse race which people could bet on, while regular racing events have been cancelled:

“The virtual Grand National was the last desperate act of the bookmaking industry to entice people in.”

The Irish Bookmakers Association did not make a spokesperson available for the programme, but they sent a statement to the effect that their members take their obligations on responsible gambling seriously during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Seán suggested to Oisín that bookmakers are partly in the business of providing entertainment for people, which some see as a welcome distraction. Oisín says his concern is that with people at home all the time, gambling can dominate some people’s lives in a totally new way:

“A lot of people would say, ‘Well, there’s a lot more important things going on.’ For a lot of households at this moment in time, Seán, there’s not. There’s not anything more important.”

Seán raised the fact that donations were made by bookmakers to medical charities in Ireland and the UK off the back of the virtual race. Oisín says he sees another side to it:

“I’ve seen where the NHS is going to profit to the tune of £2 million. I suppose the reverse of that is that this causes so many problems in so many households. We are talking about people who are gambling their last cent.” 

Oisín spoke about a family he knows who are now in the grip of a vicious cycle, due to problem gambling by one family member:

“There’s a family of 6 there. They ended up with a £25 food parcel in order to get them through to the next payment. When the next payment comes, they have to keep that person who is in addition, who is at home full-time now, away from that money, so it is not gambled again, so that family can eat.”

McConville was very critical of what he called the “front and Centre” positioning of the Virtual Grand National across a range of media outlets, which may tempt people back to gambling who are trying to give it up:

“A lot of people can gamble socially, a lot of people can gamble for small amounts of time, all of those people can go on, they’re entitled to gamble. But this was directed at the people, maybe they had forgotten about gambling. They had been in a different bubble and all of a sudden it’s front and centre, it’s in their faces and they start gambling.”

McConville says the Virtual Grand National was the starting point for the crisis now hitting the family of six he mentioned earlier:

 “It started with a 50 euro bet on the Virtual Grand National and 1,150 quid later, on the Nicaraguan League, or the toss of two people tossing a coin online, or whatever it was, poker, or whatever it was, ended up 1,150 quid. Those people had no money.”

In Oisín’s view, the large donations to medical charities by the betting industry will be dwarfed by the long-term impacts of problem gambling:

“The amount of issues that this will cause across, not just Ireland, but across Ireland and the UK that will cost a lot more than £2 million. You’re talking about domestic violence. You’re talking about, a lot. Addiction leads to a lot of other things. It affects a lot of people other than that one person who is addicted. Statistics say it’ll affect ten other people.”

Oisín discusses regulation of the gambling industry and his concerns about underage gambling in the full interview with Seán, which also includes the full statement by the Irish Bookmakers Association and you can hear it all here.  

Help and support from Gamblers Anonymous is available by calling (01) 8721133 or by contacting  info@gamblersanonymous.ie.

Ruth Kennedy

© The Listener 2020

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