January 2013        

The gambling business: “a statement of confidence in Ireland and its people”!

In December 2012 the manager of a rural post office in Co. Carlow was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for stealing €1¾ million from his place of work over a period of fourteen months. He was not using the stolen money to buy a new house or car: he was using it to feed a compulsive gambling addiction.
     He frittered away all the money he stole in an on-line account with Paddy Power. He was often wined and dined by employees of the company and taken on outings to sports events. Once he gambled €40,000—the equivalent of his annual salary—on the outcome of an obscure football match in Norway.
     Only two months before the man was convicted, Paddy Power announced the opening of its new head office in Clonskeagh, Co. Dublin, which cost €10 million. It’s claimed that six hundred new jobs are to be created there by 2015, in the areas of “social media, quantitative research, risk management, and on-line marketing.”
     Enda Kenny announced the jobs with one of his vacuous clichés. “This is a statement of confidence by Paddy Power both in Ireland, in its people and in particular in our young people,” he beamed, before being herded off by his minders.
     Gambling is an exploitative industry. It does not create wealth but merely transfers it out of the pockets of weak and vulnerable people and into the hands of capitalist vultures. Naïve and desperate people are drawn towards gambling by the belief that they can instantly solve their financial problems.
     This illusion is compounded by the intensive advertising and marketing by the gambling industry, which preys on people’s weaknesses. According to Gamblers Anonymous, many compulsive gamblers think of themselves as morally weak or worthless. There are countless harrowing stories of compulsive gamblers impoverishing themselves and their families with their addiction.
     Yet the Taoiseach thinks the expansion of the gambling industry is a statement of confidence in the Irish people!
     Of course Kenny and other right-wing politicians will try to justify the gambling industry on the grounds that it creates jobs. But could this logic not then be applied to drugs, and prostitution? He was quick to lead the charge to close down the head shops in his home town of Castlebar; and I’m sure he doesn’t believe that pimps are legitimate job-creators. So why the hypocritical position on gambling?
     The difference is that the gambling industry is embedded within Irish politics. A former Fine Gael minister, Ivan Yates, owned his own chain of betting shops. A former Fine Gael councillor, John Mulholland, runs many bookies’ shops in the west of Ireland. Dodgy horse-breeding magnates, such as J. P. McManus and John Magnier, have been welcomed into the bosom of Irish politics. Fianna Fáil infamously used race meetings as fund-raisers for their sleaze and were more than happy to use public money to subsidise the gambling industry.
     In many ways the massive growth of Paddy Power summarises modern Irish capitalism. It will not invest in anything that is socially useful unless it is profitable. Financial services and turning tricks with money are incredibly profitable and therefore attract most investment.
     As with banking, gambling has been massively deregulated over the last twenty-five years. The main street of every city and town in Ireland is littered with bookies and casinos. A look inside any of these will reveal a melancholy atmosphere of mainly working-class men losing money that they and their families desperately need.
     And gambling can now be done on line or by phone, twenty-four hours a day. Even people with good jobs and a comfortable standard of living are sucked into the world of gambling by the promises of more and more. Bookies will take bets on the outcome of anything, from virtual roulette to reality television.
     Gambling has completely penetrated sport and is corrupting it. It is impossible to watch any sports event today without hearing about odds and the prices of various results. Like banks, Paddy Power employs some of Ireland’s best and brightest.
     These mathematicians apply probability theory and statistical analysis to the huge amount of data gleaned from local bookies to assess risk and to ensure that the house always wins.
     In any logical society these gifted minds would be used for something socially useful, but in Ireland they are used to exploit people and increase profits for bookies. Just like capitalism, gambling brings out the darker desires of people, such as greed, selfishness, and rampant individualism.

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