Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Crazy growth of the gambling habit

I NEVER invited Ray Winstone into my living-room with his incoherent EastEnders blather and I wish he’d get lost.
The Italian footy presenter Tiziano Crudeli with his increasingly over-the-top “game on!” squealing is equalling irritating.
The Sky tag-line “It matters more when there’s money on it”is a) untrue, b) insulting to the genuine sports fan, and c) another example, like those above, of a worrying trend in our society.
Just when smoking has been driven off our screens, out of pubs and workplaces and into a less-cool hinterland of chilly corners, a new evil has arisen as if to fill its place.
As if alcohol wasn’t already addiction enough to inflict on our vulnerable young, we now have the destructive power of gambling.
All right, it isn’t new. Betting on sport is at least as old as organised games.
But the emergence of “in-play” betting via the internet, and our bombardment by TV and online advertising of gambling of all kinds, amounts to an epidemic.
When grown men can sit at their office desks gambling away their earnings on such vagaries as “next goalscorer”, “next corner”, or “number of yellow cards”, someone has a problem.
When poker – after snap, the dullest card game ever devised until you add the cash – has whole TV channels devoted to it, there’s something badly wrong.
And when teenagers can be initiated into the gambling habit via“free” games on Facebook and other websites, we’re stocking up a mountain of trouble for their future.
The 12-year-old who “borrowed” his dad’s credit card to register with an online poker site lost £7,000 before the card was stopped. But his is by no means the worst case. He may well never do it again.
Unlike the 60,000 British 12- to 15-year-olds now estimated to be “problem gamblers”.
Or many of the 28 per cent of children who have played a free online gambling game in the past week.
For many – I hope most – of those, the habits ingrained now may lead to nothing worse than a weekly flutter on the National Lottery and an annual punt on the Grand National. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

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