Mig­gledy is right — bet­ting apps are a bloody scourge

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - COLUMNIST - Ian O’Do­herty

If I’m per­fectly hon­est, I don’t have a lot of time for our Pres­i­dent’s brand of pol­i­tics. He seems a man stuck in po­lit­i­cal as­pic; a rem­nant of the time when, say, the San­din­istas were ev­ery­one’s favourite rev­o­lu­tion­ary group, when the Soviet Union was seen as bet­ter than the USA and peo­ple still clung to the no­tion that com­mu­nism was a re­ally good idea if only some­one could just do it right.

Then there is his aw­ful waf­fle. In fact, he’s a man who has brought waf­fle to new and pre­vi­ously un­think­able heights through his in­no­va­tive idea of re­peat­ing plat­i­tudes in both English and Ir­ish — and they say men can’t multi-task?

Hav­ing said that, I voted for the man, and his ap­pallingly ig­no­rant trib­ute to Cas­tro was the only time I ever re­gret­ted throw­ing my vote his way.

That mis­step aside he is, un­de­ni­ably, a de­cent man, and his job is to mostly make us feel a bit bet­ter about our­selves.

As it hap­pens, and rather im­prob­a­bly given the dif­fer­ences in age and po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, we even have some mu­tual friends in com­mon, and any of the times I’ve briefly met him down the years he comes across as that rare enough thing — a good egg.

Even so, I al­ways feel it in­cum­bent upon my­self to dis­agree with vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing he says, usu­ally be­cause it’s just gob­bledy­gook.

And yet I have to give the man fair credit for his lat­est in­ter­ven­tion in mat­ters so­cial, even though it also makes me a bad lib­er­tar­ian.

While the gaze of the na­tion has been drawn towards the gallery of emerg­ing Pres­i­den­tial wannabes, Mig­gledy (as he is known to some) came out against bet­ting ads in sports.

Speak­ing on RTÉ’s Sun­day Sport, Hig­gins ex­pressed his dis­may that bet­ting com­pa­nies have now vir­tu­ally colonised sports ad­ver­tis­ing and spon­sor­ship and he added, for good mea­sure, that: “I’m very con­cerned about gam­bling [in sport]... If I had my way I wouldn’t have ad­ver­tis­ing of any ac­cess to gam­bling plat­forms in sport at all. I re­ally worry when I read cases of peo­ple who have come through gam­bling prob­lems... It’s not for me as Pres­i­dent to do some­thing, as I’ve no in­flu­ence ex­cept to say what I think.”

This is the bit where I’d nor­mally steam in, all guns blaz­ing, con­demn­ing him for treat­ing adults like chil­dren and re­mov­ing the in­di­vid­ual’s right to make their own mis­takes.

But the cru­cial bit of his state­ment, and it’s some­thing which some peo­ple seem to have missed, was that he wasn’t talk­ing so much about gam­bling ads per se, as the scourge of gam­bling apps — two very, very dif­fer­ent propo­si­tions en­tirely.

I’m prob­a­bly lucky in that the one com­pul­sion I never de­vel­oped was the worst one you can get — the gam­bling bug.

It just never ap­pealed to me.

In fact, decades on, I still have a child­hood mem­ory of drag­ging my school­bag on the ground be­hind me, com­ing home from school and winc­ing at the sound of the horse rac­ing on the telly as I walked up the path.

I had an un­cle who liked the gee gees and that ex­pe­ri­ence worked as a form of aver­sion ther­apy, I sup­pose.

But even back then, peo­ple who wanted to gam­ble had to go to their lo­cal book­ies.

They had to at least make the phys­i­cal ef­fort to go out and lose all their money.

These days? Well, as we now know, these days you just open your favourite bet­ting app on your phone and hey presto, be­fore you’ve even copped what’s go­ing on, you’ve just landed your­self in debt.

Un­like other ad­dic­tions, there is no point at which you’re sim­ply phys­i­cally in­ca­pac­i­tated and in­ca­pable of con­tin­u­ing your binge — I once saw a guy lose a grand on his phone in the time it took for him to or­der a round. A round, need­less to say, that he then couldn’t af­ford.

Most of the peo­ple I know like a flut­ter, whereas I’ve only ever been in­side a book­ies on one oc­ca­sion. But therein lies the real and ob­vi­ous dan­ger of these apps — peo­ple who would never dream of set­ting foot in­side a bet­ting shop can wa­ger away to their heart’s dis­con­tent on their phone.

Bet­ting apps are a smart but fiendish in­ven­tion for bet­ting com­pa­nies.

Af­ter all, many pun­ters go to their lo­cal pub to watch the big games so you have the per­fect storm of booze, the ex­cite­ment of a mas­sive match and the usual slag­ging and one-up­man­ship that comes when­ever you’re in a group.

Frankly, un­der those con­di­tions the sur­prise isn’t that so many peo­ple use their phone as a mo­bile bet­ting shop, but that more peo­ple don’t.

No­body in their right mind would want to ban gam­bling — af­ter all, far more peo­ple en­joy it as just a bit of fun than ever end up in the gut­ter.

But the idea of hav­ing such ready and easy ac­cess to bet­ting is one which, only a few years ago, would have seemed in­sane. Should we ban these apps?

I hon­estly couldn’t call for some­thing like that, and we should al­ways be aware of the law of un­in­tended con­se­quences — once you start ban­ning one thing you don’t like, the dams open.

But they’re a pretty foul in­ven­tion, and an un­nec­es­sary one at that — peo­ple could still gam­ble their lives away be­fore these apps came along, af­ter all.

So, fair balls, as it were, to the Pres­i­dent I re­luc­tantly voted for.

He’s fi­nally come out and said some­thing I agree with, how­ever grudg­ingly.

Well, even a stopped clock is right every... seven years, I sup­pose.

The sur­prise isn’t that so many peo­ple use their phone for gam­bling, but that more peo­ple don’t

Dis­mayed: Michael D Hig­gins has voiced con­cern over gam­bling apps

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