In recent years gambling has become a major issue in rural Ireland and this week we bring you an intimate interview with ‘Jack’ (22) a final year UCD student who desires to remain anonymous for the purpose of this piece.

I was first contacted by Jack in December after the final day of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival. Jack had lost his final €200 on a double and it was clear from his tone that he had lost all hope and was now sick of being a loser. The bet was a simple double on Morning Assembly and Hurricane Fly. He was convinced the bet was a certainty but Morning Assembly failed to triumph and his 5-1 bet was no more. This was the first day Jack admitted his problem to anyone.

“It was the day after St. Stephen’s Day and I remember looking around at what I can only describe as broken men. The disgusting tang of body odour filled the shop as they filed into the small run down bookmakers to watch the big race from the neighbouring pub. It was as far from Power Tower as you could possibly get. The smell was so disgusting that at one stage I physically had to move to avoid sickness. The stale smell of beer, sale sweat and other bodily odours forced me to consider even hanging around to watch the race. I couldn’t take it anymore. Auld lads chatting about former glories, the next big winner, the bet that got away or even the bogus tips they got from their first cousin’s uncles’ brother’s son. I couldn’t live my life like this; this would be my last day in a bookmaker’s shop.”

I slowly began to question the quantity and cost of his bets. Jack was extremely hesitant when I asked what was the greatest amount he ever lost at the races and I gave the assurance that he would not be identified before he confided the actual figure. I was shown a glimpse of Jack’s internet betting history. I was shocked. Pages and pages of bets with the odd win icon located one each page but they were quickly out-numbered by losing bets.

“The most I ever lost was €8000 on a horse called Sous Les Cieux trained by Willie Mullins. I remember the race still. It was December 27th in Leopardstown and he was beaten in to third at odds-on by the Edward O’Grady trained horse Cash and Go. I was convinced he was a certainty. I was heart-broken. I was going to use the money to buy a car. As for the number of bets, I couldn’t even guess. I’m the only one in my family that gets inch thick back statements from online transactions. That’s all I can really say.”

As I spoke to Jack I realised how far his story had progressed from a tiny bet to life changing money and how the ups and downs had forced him to quit what he once viewed as a possible career.

“I remember one of my first bets, it was the October of first year, a friend from a racing background and I had a mere €1 bet in the William Hill in Donnybrook. I didn’t know what I was doing and my friend filled out the betting slip. It was a simple four horse bet and he couldn’t make up his mind between the runners in the mares maiden hurdle and our bets varied by one horse. His bet came in and he won close on €200, I was left glum faced but I was hooked. I thought I had unearthed an easy way to make money a simple method where I backed the winner. I once heard it said that it’s not gambling if you win, but you never hear about the losers.”

Jack’s tale made me realise how easy it is to become addicted and as he divulged his tale of woe and the winning and losing days it became clear that he was addicted to the devilish sister of the game of kings. Jack’s losing days began to out-number the winning days. He continued to illustrate the fact that he came from a horsey back ground, they were in his blood. His tale is also poignant as all the skills he learned from work increased his own believe that he could beat the bookie. His work ethic and his competitiveness were a great hindrance. Jack explained that he was never one to walk away so he continued to find himself indulging his desire to win. At one stage Jack had four different betting accounts all merely to get the free initial stake. Plunging deeper it became clear that these were in fact matched bets and Jack’s stake in opening these accounts exceeded €800 –  not one of them won.

“I never feared losing money, but I was enthralled with the promise of the potential earnings. I would often sit in a bookies and laugh at the jackeens and townies place bets on the guidance of the papers tipsters. They had no skill, no knowledge. I thought I knew better. I grew up around horses. I thought I knew how to pick winners. I used simple tricks like avoid under-priced maidens never back in a handicap or even the more in-depth detail of a horse’s ability to handle the ground or trip based on pedigree. I could name the three national hunt stallions, I predicted Cooper would get the Gigginstown House job weeks ago, or when to back an ex Irish point-to-pointer running first time out in England but I couldn’t seem to stay on top.”

Jack continues to explain that his problem is not with racing as his love of the horse runs deep but with the clever ploys adopted by bookmakers to draw you in.

“Matt Chapman spoke recently about horse racing and the simple fact that it would not exist without betting. He claimed that the punter doesn’t go racing for the horse but for the bookie. I couldn’t disagree more. I love horse racing. Nothing marvels me more than watching excellence and brilliance up close. Take Missunited this year in Galway or even Hurricane Fly regaining his champion’s crown at Presbury Park. And before you ask, no, I had neither backed. I was just happy to have witnessed history”.

Jack’s tale is becoming more common around the country. But he is one of the lucky ones. He never borrowed to fund his addiction but spent close to every penny he had to satisfy his need to win. What makes Jack’s tale so poignant is that he never was a secret gambler. He admitted he liked gambling and was even given admiration by his friend’s due to his unique ability to pick winners, or so they thought. To this day Jack’s family are still unaware of his gambling addiction.

Gamblers Anonymous can be contacted by phone, email and post. The full list of meeting locations is available at www.gamblersanonymous.ie. Anyone suffering from this addiction is urged to contact the organisation at [email protected]