Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

We're on loser with Sunday gambling

Social Development Minister Alex Attwood is considering letting bookmakers open on Sundays... in a region where one in 50 has a gambling problem - four times the national average.

In the last few years there's been an explosion of gambling. Far from being the slightly seedy, slightly taboo vice it once was, it is now smack in the middle of the "entertainment industry".

Bored housewife? "Get with the rest of the girls" on a bingo website. Look, there's new odds on X Factor. We live in a virtual 24/7 gambling culture.

We've been here before, with longer opening hours for pubs. Remember the guff about how they'd all turn into little French cafes with patrons outside sipping a glass of vin rouge, Penguin Modern Classic to hand, musing vigorously and wittily on life and love.

Did it turn out like that? Well, non. As witnessed by the debris strafed down Belfast's Golden Mile after a Saturday night, pubs became essentially industrialised booze sheds.

Industries don't argue for longer hours because it will mean less business for them - no, they want to hook every last pound out of your pocket.

Alex Attwood says he'd also consider introducing a levy to promote research, education and treatment into addiction.

Give us a break. Levies are fig leaves for naked politicians. Apart from the philosophical problems raised by taxing industries we don't like to (ever so partially) clean up their mess, levies are just a gentle slap on the wrist.

Indeed, they encourage the belief all's well with the world. Drink Responsibly everybody...

Gambling addiction is less visible than drink or drug dependency. Most gamblers don't roll about the streets. Obsessive gamblers may be boring and self-delusional but they're not incoherent. By its very nature, it's an easier addiction to hide.

And yet its effects are just as grim - especially for those living with a gambler. Lies, petty theft, wondering if there's enough cash for the children's tea.

Yet Alex's solution is to let them nip out for a quick Sunday bet - as long as the bookies cough up a bob or two to the NHS.

Hasn't he ever heard that, sometimes, prevention is better than cure?

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