Life is not a gamble

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The Believer, Mr Brightside, The Professor, Generous John and Gut Truster. These are the betting men, leading the “Ladbrokes life”. This group of typical “lads”, enjoying some “banter” and getting up to “antics”. This few, this happy few, this band of brothers…

Sorry, I got carried away there!

Anyway, these guys are the new horrendous irritants stars of the adverts for Ladbrokes. They crop up on virtually every advert break on the sports channels along with an almost countless list of other bookies, all creating campaigns trying to entice you to bet with them by showing gambling as the ultimate form of entertainment and communal activity.

They’re not alone. Celebrities like Scary Spice and Barbara Windsor have lent their endorsements to various online bingo sites, whilst other sites tout themselves as places for people to come together and have a chat and a laugh together.

Gambling, since regulation was relaxed in the 1990s, has become a way of life for millions in the UK. An activity, once the domain of rich men in casinos, dodgy characters in smoke filled bookies and old women in bingo halls, is now as ubiquitous as going to the pub. The market has changed as a result. The Gambling Commission report growth in online gambling, football betting and fixed odds betting terminals, whilst on course betting and off course betting on horses and greyhounds are declining.

Now, before I go any further, I have a confession. In a previous job I was the manager of a branch of Ladbrokes in Dorset. I promoted gambling and made my own living from the gambling industry. I enjoyed many aspects of the job, particularly the chance to watch sport all day and meet loads of different people. It was fun, at times, but it was also poorly paid with appalling conditions. 60-90 hour weeks were the norm, still taking home £15k or less as a branch manager. Staff in betting shops are being bled dry by an industry who make massive profits.

However, the staff are the lucky ones. In my time working for Ladbrokes I saw people losing a whole week’s wages within an hour of being paid. I’ve seen men throwing chairs across the shop after losing their food money. I’ve seen people sit at fixed odds betting terminals for whole days, putting hundreds of pounds in and losing, then coming back the next day and doing it all again. I got to the point that my discomfort with the situation was so great that, when finally given the chance (through unfortunate circumstances) I got out.

I’ve also spoken to someone I used to know who was a financial adviser. He said that it was not uncommon to come across people whose future financial planning was based around winning the lottery. Yes, “it could be you”, but that’s a 14,000,000/1 chance; not the odds you should be using to plan your future.

Gamblers Anonymous are seeing increasing numbers at their meetings. Debts caused by gambling are on the increase. Betting companies profits are soaring, as are their advertising and sponsorship revenues.

Shelagh Fogarty highlighted gambling addiction on her BBC Five Live show this week. On it, people with gambling problems spoke of losses of hundreds of thousands of pounds, defrauding their employers out of thousands, losing their jobs, homes and families. They have got themselves into that position,  and would admit that themselves. However, as gambling is made to look more and more like a normal part of daily life in the image of it we’re sold on our TVs,  there can be no doubt that the gambling industry is causing this and profiting wildly from it. This is a highly addictive activity. Addiction is an illness,  but it’s an illness which our society seems all too happy to help cause and exacerbate in the pursuit of cheap thrills, small financial gains and a vain hope.

So, what can we do? Firstly, don’t get dragged into it in the first place. The occasional bet, not a problem. I enter the Lottery (£2 per week, not huge bucks) and will have a flutter on the Grand National. But when you find that you’re betting most days, maybe with more than you can reasonably afford, you need to take a step back.

Don’t be afraid to express concern for a friend if you are worried. Showing love for someone sometimes means letting them know when they may have a problem. You may be knocked back, but if you aren’t then it may be the first step which someone in trouble needs.

Pray for people you know who may have an issue (including yourself), if you are so inclined.

Most of all, recognise that gambling is a false hope. It is something for us to cling to as a method of earning easy money and giving us either a short term or permanent financial boost. The thing is, as the old saying goes, you never see a poor bookie. The odds are always stacked in their favour. You will win occasionally, but you’ll always like more.

Real hope comes elsewhere,

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In God’s great mercy he has caused us to be born again into a living hope, because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3 NCV)

Real hope doesn’t come from a betting slip, or a mobile phone app, or an online game of bingo or poker. It doesn’t even come from the disembodied floating head of Ray Winstone. It comes from Jesus. Fulfilment comes from Jesus, not the small chance of financial gain. Joy comes from Jesus, not picking who scores the next goal.

With Jesus we are still taking a risk in this life, but we already know that,  ultimately, we are onto a winner. Odds so short that no bookie will ever want to take your money.

As Mr Winstone says,

“Have a bang on that!”

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