As the dust settles on the four-day Cheltenham horse racing festival, the next few weeks will see more people seeking help for their gambling addiction, advocates have warned.
Barry Grant, founder of Extern Problem Gambling, said that while Cheltenham is an event enjoyed by many, for problem gamblers and those in recovery it can be a very difficult time and see many who are battling gambling addiction relapse.
“In the weeks after Cheltenham, people can be licking their wounds and wondering how they’ll pay the rent or pay the mortgage this month,” he said. “This could be a wake-up call. It’s usually in the coming weeks when we’d see more people reach out and get in contact.”
There are around 12,000 problem gamblers in Ireland and a further 125,000 people in the “at risk” category of gambling, according to recent statistics published by the Health Research Board. Statistics also suggest that just under one-fifth of men aged 15-24 who gambled in the last year were either at-risk or problem gamblers.
Mr Grant said that at this time of year “a lot of people are having fun” with a bet on Cheltenham, but it “can be difficult” for other people.
“If we had a four-day festival of alcohol consumption, you’d have a warning attached to that,” he said. “Living in Ireland, it’s so hard to get away from [Cheltenham].
“On the radio, practically every advert this week I’m hearing is about betting. At the office, it’s what a person’s co-workers are talking about. All your mates are talking about it in WhatsApp groups. There’s nothing else really like it. There’s no way to hide from it.”
Mr Grant said that some service users who had had problems with their gambling would simply go on holiday abroad for the week of Cheltenham to try and get away from it.
He said: “I’m working with people at the moment who’ve been in good, solid recovery who’ve had slips this week. It’s perfectly legitimate for the people who enjoy it, but for the people in recovery, it’s very difficult.”
“Some people are more open about the fact they’re in recovery from a gambling addiction,” Mr Grant said.
“Others might have a little white lie in their back pocket like ‘I’m not betting, I’m saving for a deposit’. It is tricky because a week like this is the social face of gambling. Most people we would work with go way beyond that social bit. But during Cheltenham, you can hide your gambling because it’s social to do it.
For Mr Grant, one of his biggest concerns arising from the four-day festival is the advertising young people are be exposed to.
“All of this talk about gambling completely normalises it for children and young people,” he added. ”Out of the hundreds and hundreds of ads, it’ll be hard to find a message to say ‘Oh, PS, this stuff can be addictive’.
“Unlike the alcohol or tobacco ads, where it’s banned altogether, you can have gambling ads all throughout the day. It’s that normalisation that worries me.”