Gambling has become the biggest social ill in Derry, reaching ‘epidemic’ proportions it has been claimed
The Derry branch of the Gambler’s Anonymous (GA) organisation has described Derry’s addiction to gambling as: “an epidemic.”
The organisation locally is contacted around 100 times each month, though these contacts are not always initiated by the gambler themselves. Often friends and family members of those addicted to the bookmaker’s docket, the greyhounds, pools or cards are the first to seek some help and advice.
“The gambler is usually the last to contact you,” said a GA spokesperson.
In a shocking assesment of Derry’s gambling habits, the spokesperson, ‘Tom’ added: “I honestly believe that gambling causes more problems locally than drink and drugs combined.”
He also says it’ s the hardest vice to surrender. “A drinker will get a little praise on the road to recovery.
“Few, other than close family, will even know someone with a gambling problem. It really is a silent killer.”
Tom said that in the last three or four years, he has known 12 people across Northern Ireland who took their own lives, as a result of problems stemming from their addiction to gambling. “That’s the ones we know about,” he reflects.
“In the last two months we are aware of two Derry mothers who have had to travel to England to bring their sons home.
“They had run into trouble as a result of their gambling.”
The GA spokesperson believes there is no “rock bottom” when it comes to gambling.
“The alcoholic will fall asleep eventually but a gambler can always write another docket. I’ve seen times when I’ve been searching down the side of the sofa in order to raise a stake.” Tom who has been attending meetings for over 30 years, said: “People don’t have to be gambling vast amounts of money to become addicted. Many think it is just a little sport, or an interesting aside to Saturday’s football matches but that is how the problem starts.
“One of our members started with a 50p bet on the Grand National, his last bet resulted in the loss of £100, 000.”
Tom has amassed a vast amount of gambling anecdotes. Behind each one is a family in financial and emotional turmoil due to gambling. From the wife of a gambler he visited in Gransha Hospital after her breakdown, to the women who got up and left with their children rather than wait for her husband to come home and say he’d gambled the week’s wages, again.
“If everyone in Derry who had a gambling problem attended a GA meeting the Brandywell stadium wouldn’t hold them.
“I’m in no doubt that there are hundreds of families in Derry missing their father as he is ‘down the bookies.’ Families are literally being robbed of Daddy due to their gambling addiction.
This was certainly the case for reformed gambler, Damien.
The father of three asked us to withhold his surname. Damien has been attending GA for four years, he had been gambling for 30, remarkably he is only 44 years old.
“I was in a good job in Dublin being paid a good wage,” he told the Journal. “However my gambling meant that I divided that figure in two.
“One half going to an account my wife knew about, the other to one to fuel my habit. I was gambling so much the Bookies used to make and bring me my dinner in the shop. I bet on horses and dogs never the football as 90 minutes was too long to wait for a winner.
“In one trip to Lifford track I won E17, 000 but I left empty handed as I gambled it all at the same race meeting. I won and lost it on the same night. Gambling is not about winning the money.”
Tom said: “Gambling is an escape from life into a dream world. A big win equals a wonderful life. Gamblers enjoy the dream. Even if they are financially secure, they still want the big win.
“A dream blots the bad memories and many losses. I, long ago, knew a man who ran a bookmakers.
“He manipulated the tills so he could enter a docket after the race. He literally was printing money but that wasn’t enough, so he had to take the money he was stealing from his own shop and gambled it in a nearby bookies. Having the money wasn’t enough.”
The road to recovery for Damien started when; “Something in my head just clicked.
“I had been to a GA meeting before but that was under pressure from friends and family.
“So one day I decided to attend on my own steam.
“I realised two things at that meeting, firstly things were only going to get worse and secondly I did have a choice about what happened next.”
Damien placed his first bet aged ten and reflects: “I couldn’t count what I lost since but I know what I’ve won now. I never used my winnings for anything good. Today I take my children to football. Had I still been gambling I wouldn’t be at the park, I would be in the bookies losing money and my family time.
“When I was gambling I didn’t attend a single teachers meeting, school play or football game. My wife was a one parent family.”
Both men agree that: “At the route of the Gamblers problem is selfishness.”
Damien knows today that GA meetings will “always be part of my life.
“I knew that early on. I might not go to a meeting for a few days, I might even be able to go a few weeks without attending but I know that I need them.”
Damien said: “I honestly believe that only the lucky ones get to attend GA. I got an education about life at GA.
“There are people from all walks of life, all strata of society who face this problem.
“I wouldn’t have the incentive to stay away from the bookies without GA.”
The road to recovery wasn’t easy. Firstly he worried about making ends meet. He gave up his well paid job in Dublin to move home with his family. Four years later he is, he states proudly, “debt free.” Damien also had to set about making restitution to those he had hurt. Chief among those was his wife.
“I am very, very lucky, my wife and I have been together since we have been teenagers.
“My wife put up with a lot but I had to tell her everything and GA helped me approach that in the correct manner. I had to be honest with her.”
Tom added: “I believe that honesty without sensitivity is brutality.
“From our experience truth with our family is important but just as important is ensuring we don’t move our own problems onto those of our loved ones.
“We have to tread softly.”
Unlike other addictions there are zero statutory funded support networks for gamblers.
The only support networks outside of family and friends is Gamblers Anonymous.
The organisation holds meetings throughout Derry on an almost nightly basis.
If you or a loved one is affected by gambling then speak to GA on 028 71 351329.