The View from the Blue from April 27. Part One of this column can be found here
IT’S not often I get to end a column on a cliff-hanger but that’s exactly what I had to do last week because I ran out of space. A quick recap on two things before I resume John’s* story. Firstly, I spent the majority of my 20s and early 30s gambling and put the rest of my life under a lot of pressure. I have written about this many times and tried to be as honest as I could about the process. I essentially walked through the most important years of my life like a zombie and hurt a number of people in the process. The banks are probably never going to give me credit again but I feel like I should give myself even just a little bit. I’m no longer a slave to gambling, to the point that if you were to list the most active things in my life right now, gambling and its thoughts would be nowhere to be seen. In any man’s language, that’s a win.
Last week I started telling ‘John’s’ story. He has spent most of lockdown turning himself from an occasional gambler into a compulsive addict. I ended last week’s column describing a lonely night of gambling – in the spare room – where John turned €200 into €4,500.
“I knew if I kept going, I’d lose it all, so I went to the withdrawal part of my account and attempted to withdraw €3,000,” John said. “I did something that all gamblers do, I left some money in my account to ‘play with’. I know that’s still €1,500 and an awful lot of money, but to me at that time, it was just numbers on a screen, like lives on a game of Mario.”
John was betting on a casino account that’s registered in Cyprus. There are thousands of these type of casinos on the web and they’re all accessible to Irish people. Because there is no Gambling Regulator in Ireland, gamblers here bet on these sites at their own risk. It’s rare that the companies will refuse to pay out winnings, but, as John was about to find out, they can make it as hard as possible to get to that forbidden fruit.
“Firstly they told me that I couldn’t withdraw anything until I verified my identification,” he said. “The funny thing about this was that in the previous month or so I had probably deposited about €1,500 without being asked to verify anything.”
John quickly made copies of his passport and bank statements, but was told that he could be waiting up to three days for this verification process to be completed. This is one of the bookie’s tricks. The casino knew that in this time, John would more than likely lose all his money. In fact, he ended up winning another €2,000.
“It was just my luck at that particular moment in time,” he said. “Gamblers are usually 85% unlucky because of the undisciplined nature of their betting, but on this occasion, for whatever reason, I was given a chance to get out of this with my balance high, even if my head wasn’t.”
After finally getting verified, John was then told that the maximum he could withdraw each day was €500 and he could only have two active withdrawals on his account at any one time.
“I had over €6k in my account and I didn’t know how to get it out,” he said. “If I withdrew €500, it would sit in my account for three days, during which time I could cancel it anytime I wanted. The whole thing became too much for me.”
This particular casino allowed John to deposit €2,330 without so much as checking that he was who he claimed to be when he signed up. As soon as he started winning though, his account went into near lockdown. He pressed the withdrawal button on the first €500, but that still left €5,500 in his account – the allure of which proved too much for him.
“I lost the entire €5,500 in the course of about eight hours.” he said. “I then cancelled the other €500 – exactly how they hoped and probably expected that I would. If I had been able to withdraw the €6k at once I know I would have been able to turn things around. I could have paid off some debts and the clarity of what happened would definitely have shocked me into getting immediate help. I don’t understand how it’s legal for them to make it so easy to lose money, but so hard to win it. They’re the most dangerous drug dealers I’ve ever seen.”
Take a look at the Premier League and the League of Ireland and count how many teams are sponsored by betting companies. This should tell you all you need to know about how successful these companies are and how many unfortunate people are losing their money, jobs, families and their livelihoods. John is a 100% real person and quite well known in Waterford. I didn’t even know he gambled and he only contacted me because he knew I’d understand. There are hundreds more Johns in Waterford.
*not his real name
If you are struggling with gambling, here are some useful resources:
Gamban – an app that blocks all gambling websites from your phone/computer etc.