A Derry mother who was left with “not enough money to put food on the table” this week has spoken out against what she says is a major problem with gambling in the North West.
The woman, who did not wish to be named, said she had gone to an arcade last weekend to escape loneliness and lost hundreds of pounds in one evening. She says many others have lost thousands of pounds because of what she claimed is the under regulation and inspection of casinos and arcades along the border.
“I was devastated, I lost every last penny that I had. I really believe the system takes advantage of people who are vulnerable. It’s just madness. You only have to listen to the stories people are telling when they go out for a cigarette. There are people who’ve lost everything,” the local woman said.
“I was in a position where I didn’t know how I was going to get through the week. I want to let people know just how dangerous it is. I wouldn’t want to see anyone else going through what I’ve gone through this week. It has been horrible, especially just coming up to Christmas.
“I started going to the arcade out of loneliness more than anything else really. I’m a single mother and I live with my kids and I don’t have a big support network outside of that.
“I don’t get much money and I don’t have much to get me through the week but I’ve realised that these machines aren’t set up to pay out, they’re not set up so that people win big amounts of money and once you get stuck in the middle of the whole gambling thing, it’s impossible and it just makes life really difficult. The places where you can gamble here are always full of people from every age and it’s a massive issue. You have people from 18 right up to 70 and over, and there are very few, if any, big winners among them.”
And, an addiction counsellor from one of the leading treatment centres in the North West has said that gambling is becoming an increasingly big problem.
Andrew Fitzpatrick from the Whiteoaks Centre in Muff said constant television advertising about gambling had normalised what can become a serious addiction.
“Out of the three main addictions, namely drugs, alcohol and gambling, gambling actually has the highest suicide rate. It is categorised as a standalone mental health condition.
“People don’t tend to seek help for gambling addictions until it’s too far down the line because there are no obvious physical signs. When someone is drunk or high on drugs, you can see that but gambling is different.”
Mr. Fitzpatrick said that while each individual must take responsibility for themselves, there were a lot of casinos and arcades in a relatively small catchment area in Derry and Donegal.
He added: “Poker and fruit machines are like crack cocaine for gamblers and they’re built in a way to make you think that when the barrs appear the big win is just around the corner. Then of course people keep putting money in and losing more and more.
“It’s important to let people know that there is help out there and that with help it’s possible to treat the addiction,” he added. Whiteoaks can be contacted on 353 749384400