The Future? Don't Bet on it.
Recently I've got a strong sense that this society is sleep walking towards a big problem. I'm not talking about illegal drugs; binge drinking or even rising obesity. I'm talking about gambling.
If you ever watch anything on the television that features advert breaks you can't fail to notice the constant advertisements for betting at the moment. There's the strange Italian bloke who is ecstatic that he's won a wager; Ray Winstone acting all elder statesman geezer; the bloke who goes to the football with Paddy from Phoenix Nights; and of course that borderline xenophobic ad about the guy who bets against his own team.
Meanwhile two cricketers have been convicted of trying to fix matches at the request of eastern gamblers. In Leeds there is much excitement about where a new 'super casino' is going to be built. And I'm just getting over the fact that my team in the work sweepstake got knocked out of the European Championships at the first hurdle.
Having just spoken out against drug prohibition I'm not going to be stupid enough to suggest that we make gambling illegal. However it certainly has a ubiquity and respectability about it at the moment that I don't think is healthy. This isn't going to be what the marketing and television companies want to hear because they've already lost the cash cow of tobacco advertising with alcohol possibly going the same way eventually.
I feel quite hypocritical writing this article. Unlike illegal drug taking betting and gambling is something I've plenty of experience of from raffles, lotteries, sweepstakes, card games through to visits to casinos and greyhound tracks. If I'm honest with you gambling is something I actually quite enjoy within limits. On my limited visits to the dogs and casinos my rule of thumb has always been to budget in advance and write the money off. Ironically both times I've been to a casino I've at least broken even! Which is probably one of the most dangerous things you could do. Similarly Mrs Windbag has never failed to profit on trips to the greyhounds (must be feminine intuition).
Playing cards for money is something I've done since I was young. After decimalisation my parents kept a whole load of old coins. We used to get them out on rainy days during the school holidays and play cards with this money. Later at uni I used to play brag for pennies with my housemates (and even taught my seven and nine year old brothers how to play). Down in High Wycombe I was introduced to poker which once again was played for pennies. I remember one late night whilst on a residential course at work we played cards for money. It started with pennies and quickly started to ratchet up. At one point I won several quid but to be honest I was too embarrassed and gave the other players their money back.
Perhaps the early gambling experience immunised me to gambling? (In the same way as I put my relative control with regard to alcohol down to the occasional slug of alcohol at Xmas parties when I was young). Or maybe its just because I'm a Yorkshire man I can't bear the thought of giving other people money. Gambling is just another form of game playing to me. I would be just as happy playing poker or brag for matchsticks. Its the competing that I enjoy rather than the risk or the possibility of making money.
My concern is that out there are probably thousands of people who are suffering as a result of addictions to gambling. I remember a guy at work once told me that the buzz of gambling for him was the thought that his rent money was riding on the bet. The problem with gambling as well is that as soon as you start losing the temptation is there to bet more to try and recoup your losses. I can imagine that this can spiral out of control.
With the rise of the internet and in-play betting there are opportunities to lay down and lose your money very quickly. When you are doing it on-line as well electronically it probably becomes dangerously easy to not keep up with precisely how much you are losing.
The former Liverpool and Leeds defender Dominic Matteo revealed that he has probably lost at least a million pounds gambling via his mobile phone whilst been chauffeured between his home and his football club on a regular basis. Matteo writes a column in the Yorkshire Evening Post that is sponsored by a betting firm and he offers a tip as part of his column. It certainly makes my heart sink a little.
The fact of the matter is that no matter how much skill is involved that any bet against a professional gambling company will be weighted in the favour of the company. Whether that is a betting shop or a casino. As the cliche goes - Betting is a mugs game.