The true horror gambling has on everyday life

Jordan Batey was commended in the 2020 Ian Bell New Writing Prize sponsored by the NUJ in association with Bella Caledonia. The awards will be presented by Mandy Bell and the judges at the Aye Write literary festival, on Saturday 14 March at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, following a talk at 6.15pm by Tom Roberts, author of The Making of Murdoch: Power, Politics and the Man Who Owns the Media.

The impact of the bookmaker on our society is the same today as it was ten years ago. Despite all the supposed reforms and sanctions put in place, they remain a place of deceit and despair. I would love to say that my opinion was formed on bias, with many people I know suffering from the endless trap that is gambling addiction. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Hundreds of thousands of people across the UK are left trapped and helpless by the addicting loop of fixed odds machines described as the ‘crack cocaine’ of the industry.

The high street bookmaker is slowly dying. Government sanctions and public backlash has rendered some stores unsustainable and in just the last year alone over 3000 have closed.

However, it is yet to make a real, meaningful impact. With all of these closures you can still find one on just about any high street. In fact, every high street.

There is no escaping.

If it is not the high street, it’s on your phone, tablet, laptop.

I have not liked one betting page on Facebook, nor have I ever searched for them on my web browser. Despite this, on a daily basis I encounter bet shop advertisements from the likes of Sky Bet, Sky Vegas and Bet 365 just to name a few. You can see why people trying to avoid them fail. It’s not just hard, it’s impossible.

I have had the displeasure of hearing people tell me about their personal nightmares of being addicted to gambling, all whilst they were sitting at a slot machine. They know the consequences that this has on their life and the lives of those around them. Yet, without proper help and support it is not something that they can overcome.

‘The high that you get from winning is like nothing I can describe. You feel untouchable, like you have defeated them. You have won back the money they have took from you. It’s not a hole that you can fill, though. After my first big win I didn’t gamble again for at least a week. I enjoyed myself, payed a few things off but I went back and I lost it all. Straight back to where I was. If it wasn’t the roulette machine it was the slots, blackjack, the horses, the virtual horses, and the virtual football. Just anything I could bet on really.’

‘This happened a few times. £2000 wins, £4000 wins. I could have just stopped and took my winnings. I kept thinking, I’ve won it once why can’t I win it again? I just ended up losing it all. It cost me my job, my car. I just bet any time I get some money and just hope I can turn my luck around.’
‘I’m pretty optimistic I can win again. I’ve not really give anything else much thought I could easily see me betting for a job haha.’
Reading this, did you imagine that this was just 21 year old lad Thomas Greene? So young and he has already felt the full force of the industry. It wasn’t until his mother contacted the bookmakers and had him banned for one month that anything was done about his clear problem. Yet, just one month later they sat there with open arms, welcoming back into the place that was ruining his life.

Vulnerable and impressionable, there is little done to prevent young people from becoming involved in gambling or even to inform them on the serious consequences it can have. Instead, it is viewed as a hobby or a past time. This is despite gambling having similar effects on the brain as any other drug. Winning at a casino releases a small amount of dopamine into the brain.

This is responsible for causing a buzz which in most cases fades away and is nothing more. More susceptible people, however, crave this buzz. This can lead to trance like betting where the brain does not process whether the decision is smart or not, there is just the need for the release of dopamine. This is how people can bet outrageous amounts of money and only after it’s all gone do they release just what they’ve done.

This is a core issue with the industry. There is little done to identify when somebody has an issue. There is also very little done once the issue has been identified to stop them betting all together. If one company bans you it is easy to just create an account at another company and start the process over again.

The UK Gambling Commission is the governing body for gambling in the UK. It is responsible for handing out licenses as well as the welfare of the people who gamble. They identified 4.2% of all people that gamble to be at least ‘low-risk’ gamblers. Low-risk gamblers are people who experience a low level of problems with few identified negative consequences.

However people such as the young man I spoke with are classed as problem gamblers. Problem gamblers are those who gamble with negative consequences and a possible loss of control. These people make up 0.7% of people who gamble roughly 150,000 throughout the UK.

This is 150,000 people who have a severe gambling issue, with nearly one million people suffering from some form of problematic addiction.
I asked Thomas why he started betting?

‘It started as a bit of fun when I turned 18. I would come in and bet a few pound on the football or I would go to the casino with my friends and put a few small bets on.’

‘There’s a Ladbrokes just around the corner from mine though and it’s just a small walk away. The people who work there all know me and have seen me win and lose a lot of money.’

I asked him if they had ever told him not to bet or tried to persuade him not to.

‘Nah they never really talk to me about what I’m going to bet just general chat.’

Naïve. The one word that describes perfectly this young man and his addiction. Through no fault of his own, though. It is scary to sit and watch such a young man have experienced such crippling failure and loss, yet remain optimistic. He has experienced first-hand how bookmakers and casinos work. They allow you to win a certain amount but if you continue to bet for so long, the odds on which the machines work mean that you will lose everything. Without serious professional help it will be something he will never overcome.

Countless lives have been ruined by horses running around a track or a ball rolling around a roulette table, often virtually and under fixed odds.
The grasp of the bookmakers does not discriminate. The poorest of the working class can be enthralled in trying to make some quick money. They could buy a week’s worth of food, treat their child, themselves. They could escape from the impoverished conditions they’ve had the misfortune to find themselves in. The bookmakers prey on this. Like a predator they station a suffocating amount of stores and advertisements everywhere you look.

It is becoming more and more common place that people cannot afford to bet the money that they are throwing away.

3.1 % of all people who bet are betting more than they can afford.

This takes me to one David Gate, who I spoke to in a William Hill store on a high street in Stirling. I spoke to him as he had £30 sitting in a slot machine.

50p stakes at a time. He just sat there, tapping.

I asked him about how often he bet and how much he tended to bet at one time.

‘Every day usually, somewhere in the region of £20-£30. Depends on if I’ve been paid or not.’

David, a husband and a farther, was calm and relaxed. One could say he was at home under the dim lit lights of the bookies. No one bothers him. Just the machine. His main companion. You could even say his best friend. It’s a toxic relationship. He craves its attention, yet, it’s unaware of him. The slots he is playing are fixed odds, meaning if he bets for long enough, there is near no chance that he can come away winning. His affinity for the machine doesn’t allow him to walk away.

This is how many people are held prisoner.

‘There have been times where I’ve had to lend money off friends and family just feed my girls back home. I end up betting everything if I don’t win anything, which is most times.’

‘I’ve had my fair share of big wins but it goes straight into betting. I don’t know when to stop is the bottom line I suppose.’
‘I do feel guilty but it’s something that I need to do.’

The Gambling commission’s findings also say that 2.7% of gamblers feel guilty for what they do, so this man falls into this demographic.
It’s hard to imagine the struggle that this man is dealing with. He knows what he is doing is detrimental to his family and their lives, yet it is a compulsion that he just can’t stop.

It’s easy to brand the people gambling as selfish and irresponsible but it is a legitimate addiction. This is just like alcohol addiction or drug abuse. We hold the companies of these things accountable so why are we not holding the gambling companies accountable?

It all has to do with perception. The vast majority of gamblers don’t suffer from any issues and therefore there is no stigma attached to these bookmakers. A vast change in public opinion is needed to change the perceptions of bookmakers and the legislation surrounding them.

All fixed odds machines should have a limit of £2 per spin. There should also be a cap on weekly money spent inside bookmakers or casinos. I would propose a universal card, needed to make any bet which tracked all of your spending.

There are places that people suffering from this can go to. is a great website dedicated to helping people suffering gambling issues across the full spectrum. Whether it is a long time issue or a developing issue you can visit here and get the help you need.

Unfortunately, there is not enough awareness of these establishments and the fact they exist. There are not enough of them full stop. Just like any addiction problem it is important to realise you are a victim in this all.

PC Alex Macey is a notable victim of gambling addiction, estimating he had lost £250,000 over his lifetime on betting.
His words on the issue are very profound.

‘I don’t just blame myself anymore because I’ve seen the bigger picture of how it wasn’t just my fault.’

These are words of advice that any gambling addict should consider as well as those in a position to make a change.

This is a pressing issue, but it can be changed. With a lot of focus and care, gambling addiction could become a thing of the past.

Comments (9)

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  1. Jo says:

    “The impact of the bookmaker on our society is the same today as it was ten years ago.”

    I believe it’s worse. Much worse.

    The bookie used to close. It had business hours. No more. It’s now 24/7. As the author says, it’s on smart phones, it’s on laptops. There are late night gambling sessions on our TVs. We are bombarded with gambling adverts, fronted by “celebrities”, encouraging us to sign up for bingo. We have gambling companies sponsoring major football teams. Teams bearing their brand name on their shirts. Their names are on hoardings around football pitches.

    Cigarette advertising was banned. Alcohol advertising, on TV anyway, has been scaled back. WHY is gambling still able to command such a vast audience without question? Why are football teams able to take money from companies which destroy so many lives?

    Successive governments have failed to rein in these companies. It’s time they were held to account.

    This disease hurts men and women. Bingo is available online 24/7. People can use debit and credit cards to play. (In some cases addicts have used other people’s cards to play!) Women who might visit a bingo hall once a week, usually, are now aware that a few key strokes on the computer will get them into a virtual bingo game. Think of the TV ads… the whole family is having a great time playing bingo in their phones! The reality is very different.

    It’s time action was taken to curtail the billions being earned by greedy monstrous people whose only priority is to make even more billions!

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      It is, indeed, much worse, because the bookmakers are in control of the UK government and many other ‘western’ governments as well.

      Of course they do not call themselves bookmakers – they are hedge fund and other investment company owners. They finance the government and the government makes laws which ensure they do not make any losses (as we saw when Messrs Brown and Darling showed that they actually did believe in socialism – socialism for the very rich, that is, when they delivered shedloads of public funds to the financial sector whose gambling had ruined the world’s economy)

      Messrs Osborne and Cameron then came up with the ruse of ‘quantitative easing’, which was socialism for the rich rebranded.

      Things are much more a gamble for the majority of us as ‘regulation’ and ‘red tape’ are slashed, while the very rich carry little risk and they can send their looted gains offshore and pay very little or no taxes.

      1. Chairman McMao says:

        Right. I agree fully with the discussion at hand and the want for government to regulate gambling, but this mischaracterisation of socialism has to stop. Scottish political debate is rarely founded on theory and there’s a severe lack of caution given to the creation of a new state which could likely copy the toxic social structure of British capitalism and fit in nicely as a replicated state apparatus that has its almost inevitable takeover by private interests. I’ve had much more meaningful conversation about politics and economics amongst my international youth peers on Politigram (political Instagram) than I’ve ever had amongst anybody in Scotland, the older of which think independence is a silver bullet. ‘Socialism is when gubmint does stuff’ is a common ironic joke amongst my social media comrades, poking fun at the politically illiterate. In the midst of the 6th mass extinction and a well overdue organised uprising against the hegemony of capitalism over our minds, bodies and environment, it’s fucking important we get our terminology right especially when socialism (by the CORRECT definition) is looking the likely answer, to me at least.

        Socialism for the rich is just capitalism. Socialism, really, is workers ownership and control of production. It cannot coexist with private ownership of production. It isn’t big authoritarian takeover of industry (though Marxist-leninists believe it is and could open the way to more democratic control, and when I see the idiocity of some of the albeit politically motivated public I almost feel inclined to side with them) and the USSR is best defined as state capitalist, as the origins of the 1% are neither here nor there (aristocratic or beaurocratic) if private ownership still exists. It isn’t free handouts and parasiticism, as that’s one of the prime reasons that the capitalist class should be dissolved. Socialists want the full value of their work, and an economy that accurately merits hard work, while being an economy as a means rather than an end, so that we can all collectively work less while achieving more in the finer, spiritual aspects of life such as leisure and art. Most importantly, production to satisfy needs requires a resource based economy rather than a financial one predicated on endless growth. None of which can exist while we have private property and capitalism. Knitpicking by a 21 year old commie over. (FYI communism isn’t totalitarianism, it is a stateless, classless, moneyless society organised on the principle of mutual aid, a collective economy, and participatory/voluntary/direct political structures. Through the philosophy of Marxism, socialism leads the way to communism).

  2. SleepingDog says:

    I believe there is a link between compulsive/unrestrained gambling and some forms of senile dementia. I have read a few articles that looks at how some brain diseases can lead to a predisposition for the poor judgement and risk taking associated with problem gambling. However, I suspect that there might be a route from gambling towards dementia, since there is ample evidence that gambling impairs cognition.

    I don’t see how ordinary support would help with dementia-related gambling. But perhaps interventions to stop problem gambling may also have a role in slowing down a journey into senile dementia.

  3. Josef Ó Luain says:

    In the nineteen-fifties when off-course betting was still illegal, people used the local, based up-a-close, bookie’s runner to place their bets. Criminalisation undoubtedly worked back then to the extent that fewer people gambled, but a knowledge of the addictive nature of gambling was widely known throughout the community, as were the addicts and their unfortunate families. It seems clear to me, at least, that you can’t legislate against gambling and somehow expect it to actually disappear. Driving gambling back underground clearly isn’t the answer; at this advanced point I despair of any British government ever taking-on the gambling industry and its long embedded lobby.

  4. Fay Kennedy says:

    It’s a very complex problem. Know first hand the suffering and abuse that a gambling parent brings to a family. There must be a social history to it and the growth in our era is a terrible social affliction that needs some kind of legislation and education. So many terrible traumas come from it. Family violence, poverty and the breaking of the spirit. Horrible addiction.

  5. Roger Gough says:

    Much righteous indignation but no mention of the Government’s – and your – active hand in this “disaster”. Shut down with immediate effect the National Lottery to show willing. Oh yes, I forgot profits from that go to ‘good causes’. I wonder what they could be? Clean needles for drug addicts must surely figure.

  6. John Myers says:

    I actively campaign for more regulation of the gambling industry and I get countless e-mails and adverts on my social media accounts offering free bets and other incentives.

  7. w.b. robertson says:

    when I was a boy, a long time ago, the main field of gambling was good, old fashioned “pitch and toss” (basically heads or tails) which the miners used to gather and play every weekend. They were not being conned or robbed. There was no commercial gain for any business owner big or small. all the players` cash simply circulated and remained within the “school”.

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