Urgent need to address gambling addiction

Our man Frank on how gambling addiction remains a societal concern; Why he won’t be joining Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club; Why he will be going to the Aviva (but not to Coppers)…

A man called Tony O’Reilly (namesake of the renowned businessman and one of Ireland’s best ever rugby players) has been in the news over the past few days.

This ‘other’ Tony O’Reilly had a gambling addiction  that cost him an extraordinary €20 million. A post office manager, he stole €1.75 million from his employer, for which he was sentenced to four years in prison. Having been released after serving 18 months, he now works as an addiction counsellor.

A recent poll of inter-county GAA players revealed some very worrying statistics, with 79% declaring themselves to be current gamblers, and two admitting to having placed single bets of €10,000 or more. Fourteen per cent of those surveyed had placed bets of between €100 and €1,000, while only 14% had never bet at all.

Even as someone who hardly ever has a flutter, I am aware that there are now so many ways to gamble online that it’s almost impossible to ignore the temptation, but it is to be hoped that the experiences of people like Tony O’Reilly will serve as a warning to others of the dangers of gambling.

O’Reilly says that the core age of gamblers is definitely coming down, and that, contrary to public opinion, it only takes weeks, not months or years, to become addicted.

The Government are due to debate the Gambling Regulation Bill in the near future and Tony hopes that regulation of the industry will bring some accountability. At the moment there is very little scrutiny. In one school, half the pupils of 15-year-olds had an online gambling account.

Anyway, it all serves to highlight the dangers of gambling, regulated or not, and when an ordinary post office manager can lose €20 million it’s a warning to everyone as to how far a little flutter can go.

All kinds of addictions can be very costly, but gambling addiction can really spiral completely out of control and end up costing millions – as Tony O’Reilly knows well.

Strawberries and cream (of society!)

It’s a dry, although murky, Bank Holiday Monday, and not exactly the sort of day that would have someone thinking of strawberries and cream, and the posh people that always seem to get tickets to the tennis at Wimbledon.

And yet this morning I am thinking of tennis, or more specifically of Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club, where there appears to be uproar over the sacking of two of its more senior staff in recent months.

Now obviously I have no idea as to why the two men were dismissed, but allegedly the club had to pay more than €200,000 in settlements to them. However, all of that is in-house matters. What caught my eye was the financial implications of being a member of Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club.

To join, you would have to cough up a once-off fee of €8,000. Thereafter, for the privilege of playing your tennis in Fitzwilliam, you would hand over €2,525 every single year. It appears that €470 of that fee gives you credit at the bar and restaurant, which seems to be a sneaky way of penalising every member of the club! After all, if someone only wanted to play tennis and didn’t want to either eat or drink in the clubhouse, they would still be charged €470 each year for something they didn’t use at all. Surely a charge like that should be optional. Still, judging by the breakdown of the 2,319 members, I don’t suppose they are too bothered. It seems that many of Ireland’s most senior business people, lawyers and judges are well represented in the membership list.

Recently a friend of mine who has just relocated to the west expressed an interest in joining a golf club in this particular neck of the woods and was pleasantly surprised to discover that golf club fees have come down quite a bit over the last few years, that after decades of being a game almost solely for the wealthier upper classes, it is now in the reach of ordinary mortals.

Meanwhile, my calculator tells me that if everyone in Fitzwilliam (where billionaire Denis O’Brien is one of the members) stumps up, €5,855,485 is collected each year in membership fees, so I suppose €200,000 or so in settlements is only a drop in the ocean.

I was seriously thinking of sending in my application to join the Ranelagh-based tennis ‘aces’, but on reading the rules it seems that I cannot wear a singlet or display a bare midriff. As someone who likes to play my tennis displaying my ample midriff, I have reluctantly decided to abandon my attempt to become a Fitzwilliam member, and will instead join my friend in going back to golf.

My dream of becoming the next Roger Federer may be over, but I suppose it won’t be too bad to be the next Rory McIlroy!

Allez Ireland!

One of the great things about sport is that we can never be sure as to how things will turn out in any game or event.

I have to admit that when I heard on Saturday morning that Conor Murray and Finlay Bealham had been late call ups to the Irish rugby team, my heart sank and I feared for our lads in the closed roof cauldron of Cardiff’s Principality stadium.

A few years ago Murray was rightly regarded as the best scrum-half in the world, but his star has fallen so far that he is now only third choice in Munster. Eyes were raised when Irish coach Andy Farrell still had him in the national set-up.

Of course, as is his wont, Murray came up trumps when the chips were down, and along with Connacht player, Bealham, fitted seamlessly into a very impressive Irish team.

When we were younger we were regular visitors to Cardiff on international match day, and while we always had great craic, we seldom experienced many victories. So a 24-point win on Saturday has to be seen as a super result.

This Saturday we take on the French in the Aviva –  hopefully the remains of our ageing touring party will be on site to see what I am sure will be a battle royale. No doubt we will do our best to celebrate the result, whether we win or lose.

A bit like Conor Murray, we are not the men we used to be – places like Coppers needn’t worry about any invasion by the free travel brigade.

Before I leave sport I have to congratulate the Rossies on their great start to the league, and well done to Davy Burke and his backroom team on their win in Salthill over a seemingly very poor Galway side.

On our side of the border the injury to Damien Comer is the biggest worry after the weekend. Let’s hope he can make a reasonably quick recovery.

And finally…

We often hear about the story of the buses – you wait ages for one to come and then two arrive together! That, in a strange way, sort of sums up the story of this weekend on the social front out here in Creggs.

Usually in February there isn’t much happening in the pubs or anywhere else as we wait for Paddy’s Day, although thanks to the Bank Holiday there was a big crowd at ‘The Boogiemen’ in Mikeen’s last Saturday night, but this coming weekend it’s all systems go.

Olivia Harris tells me that, fresh from the success of their recent promotion, bingo returns to the School Hall in Creggs on Friday night, with an 8 pm start.

There will be a raffle, with the usual great bingo prizes and a €500 jackpot. Double books are €15, single €10, flyers €2, and all proceeds go to the national school. It’s termed as a Valentine’s Bingo, so it’s your chance to show there’s a bit of romance left in you yet!

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one weekend, on Saturday night our successful Tansey Cup footballers are getting their medals at a ‘do’ in Jackson’s in Roscommon, with the meal at 7 pm and the ‘follow up’ hooley in JJ Harrow’s.

Sadly I won’t be at either event as I will be supporting Ireland in the Aviva. As I said…two buses coming together – but I won’t be on either of them!