Bits and Pieces

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Folly of Gambling

It's been quite some time since I wrote about anything that interested me. The incessant pursuit of traffic can often get in the way of what's important. And so, in an effort to bring it back on track and remind myself why I actually do this, I'll write a post about something that has had a vast impact on my life: gambling.

I stumbled across this article in the Herald today, discussing the effects of 'Super Casinos' on rates of compulsive gambling in the region. The article was written following news that Scottish Parliament may consider legislation to allow such casinos in the country.

I only gambled in a casino once. It was in Melbourne two years ago, and I put AUS$10 on the roulette wheel. I never understood the attraction. For me, gambling was always something that took place in the home, far away from the embarrassment that comes with a big loss. Above all, far away from judgement.

It occurred to me while reading this back that I'd forgotten one thing. I forgot the sentence that begins support meetings for all addictions, from alcoholics to sexaholics.

I'm Keith Taylor, and I'm addicted to gambling.

I started gambling at around the age of 16, while I was in college. The legal age is 18, so I'd send my brother to the local bookmaker during lunch with my picks for the weekend's football. It only cost me a couple of quid a week, and I on occasion won some extra pocket money. More than anything it was a way to make the weekend more fun - I'd never been that interested in sport, so gambling made sitting through my older brother's Saturday football program more tolerable.

Before long I grew bold enough to enter a bookies myself - a forbidding place for a child, peopled by intense old men clutching slips of paper, cursing idle horses amid a fog of pipe smoke and Old Spice. I'd take a friend and we'd sit together in the canteen of a local supermarket picking at fried chicken while we pored over the form sheet, and then place our bets on the way back to law class. It was harmless fun.

If only it had stayed at that. College ended, and we went our separate ways. I moved onto university in Manchester, and with it discovered the world of Internet gambling. My student loan brought new found riches - £3000 is a considerable fortune to a young man accustomed to getting by with just a few pounds a week. I remember the first time I learned of Internet gambling. I saw an advertisement on the side of a bus stop at Picaddily Gardens in Manchester. I was on the way home from a class, and while waiting for the bus I saw an advert for the Grand National at The ad offered a free £10 bet when you opened a new account. I got home and deposited a tenner. I think I built it up to about £45 before blowing it all on a couple of unwise bets.

From there it all gets a little murky. I spent 5 years gambling, and it all melts together in the memory after a while. One particular example sticks out, though. One day in the summer (probably 2000 or 2001) I won £4000 in one day playing roulette on the William Hill website. I'd paid in the last £79 before my overdraft limit at the bank, and I guess I just got lucky. Before I knew it I was placing £500, the maximum bet, on the spin of a wheel. Black or red - £500. But I was winning. I was on the biggest roll of my life. I called down my younger brother, who was at the time working a night job, from his bedroom. He was singularly unimpressed, but I kept running my mouth, almost squeeling with glee every time I won. I finally stopped around £4000 after losing a £500 spin. You can't imagine the feeling.

That night I celebrated with some friends in a pub a few miles from my home. I was buying drinks left, right and centre. I couldn't remember ever having felt so good. I was mentally paying off my debts, maybe buying a car with the proceeds. I was suddenly wealthy in a way that I'd never been, either before or since. Needless to say, I drank a little too much and walked home with a head full of dollar signs. I sincerely believed I could repeat the feat every day. I'd be rich.

I got home and found a note propped against the PC. It was from my mum. 'Please don't lose all your money', it read. I grabbed the nearest writing instrument, a red magic marker, and scrawled a gratingly sarcastic 'Yes, Mother' on the note - and promptly lost around £3000.

In the morning, after I'd sheepishly told my mum what I'd done, she told me she had considered unplugging the modem and hiding it from me to save me from myself. During my lowest moments, when there just isn't enough money to keep my creditors from the door, I often look back on that day and wish I'd been stronger; not had so much to drink; had too much to drink so I felt too ill to stay up; hell, been beaten up and had to go to the emergency room - anything to keep me from sitting down at the PC.

Gambling is, obviously, an addiction that brings with it a series of soaring highs and desperate lows. I've been sitting on top of the world one moment and close to tears the next. All my financial problems have been solved, and then worsened. In 7 years of gambling I have no idea how much I lost. Don't want to know, either. All I can tell you is that last summer I graduated from university with debts amounting to £25,000.

I'll always be an addict. No matter how hard I try; no matter how long I go without placing a bet, the addiction will always be there. Just as an alcoholic can't take a drink, even years after he's kicked the habit, I can't make a bet. One drink is never enough, and one drink is too much. The same holds true for gambling. I can live with that, but I'll always miss the feeling of a big win.

I'll tell you one thing, though: I got up this morning and worked from 7:30am until 4pm. I spent 8 and a half hours elbow deep in slushy ice cream in amongst deafening machinery in freezing temperatures. By clocking-off time my hands were in shreds and my back was stiff, and I earned a little less than £40. Still, at the risk of sounding like an After School Special, earning that £40 is more satisfying than anything I ever won playing roulette or trying to beat the spread. OK, there's nothing especially noble about working a 9-5. It's just that there's something ignoble about making money on the spin of a wheel.

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