Last week the Government announced it was "examining changes to taxes that could yield up to €100m annually from online gambling and betting shops". (Irish Examiner 22th Sept). The same Examiner article also quoted the Rutland Centre, a Dublin addictions clinic, which reported a "30% increase in people presenting for help" with gambling addictions.
I met a family some years back who had lost everything they ever had because the father, who was also the breadwinner, lost it all through gambling. When you think about it, it is possibly the most ruinous of addictions because of its insidious and limitless nature.
Even with alcohol addiction, you can only drink so much at one go. Footballers like Paul McGrath and Tony Adams even managed to have careers at the top of their sport while being alcoholics. There are pop stars who have come through decades of drug abuse alive, though with no recollection of what they were doing at the time.
Alcohol and drug addictions are awful - don't get me wrong - but you can only physically drink so much before you fall over and go unconscious. You can, of course, always die from liver disease or overdose, too. I am just saying there is always the potential to wake up, having hit a particular low, and get sorted. There is only so much damage you can do at one sitting, so to speak - particular excess and hard drugs excluded.
With gambling, however, the depths you can reach through steady financial ruin are unplumbed. With the recent advent of online gambling, losing all your money has never been easier. There is no waking up the following day and saying "I think I'll scrub that lot I lost on the credit card last night and start afresh". You can even lose what you don't have... in a way.
Which is why we should be wary when we hear the Government looking to increase its tax take from the industry. Already the Irish horse racing industry is subsidised - bizarrely - by the taxpayer, with the Exchequer contributing "more than €31million to the [the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund] in 2009, and a further €28 million in 2010”. (Sunday Business Post, 1st May).
If our Government has such a vested interest in gambling, it is hard to imagine it doing much to protect its citizens most damaged by the industry, despite promising to introduce a "levy for help and education services" as part of the tax reforms.
What are the bets such promises don't make it past the first furlong?
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