As a rule I don’t gamble. Not for any particular religious reason, you understand, but simply because I’m not very good at it.
I don’t have the luck. If a horse called Absolute Flipping Grade A Can’t Lose Cast Iron Certainty was the only entrant in the Grand National and I put a fiver on him, you can guarantee that within five seconds of that one horse race getting underway, Absolute Flipping Grade A Can’t Lose Cast Iron Certainty will be dead and making his way into a Tesco economy burger.
It’s more than likely that he’ll have been accidentally shot by the starter’s pistol. That’s the sort of luck I have when it comes to gambling.
So if the bookies are looking for my help to retire to Marbella, or wherever it is bookies like to retire, they’d better think again.
I’m not against the very occasional flutter on, say, the Oscar winners, but as a rule if I want to chuck away money I’ll either throw it in the canal or buy a National Lottery ticket.
But encouragement to gamble seems to be absolutely everywhere in these days of austerity. Late in the evening some telly channels appear to advertise nothing but bookmakers and websites and apps that let you place bets and play casino games from the comfort of your own sofa.
Often this involves using sexy, glamorous women trying to ensnare the viewer, like the sirens of Greek myth trying to get hold of mighty Odysseus’s debit cards.
Have you seen that one with the smug young couple whose flash, aspirational lifestyle – all chrome and smart suits and whizzy materialism – seems to be funded entirely by a gambling addiction? They’re terribly clever, aren’t they? Look, they’re saying, look at us and our glamorous lives! Why aren’t you like us? (Presumably it’s a rented flat; he looks like the sort of dead-eyed pillock who gambled away the house deposit months ago. Do you think he’s told her? Blimey, she’s in for a shock, isn’t she? )
And the internet’s no better. Now this might come as a surprise to you, but the worldwide web isn’t the benign force for good you thought it was. It’s actually full of people trying to get into your wallet, and bookmakers and gambling firms are all over the shop with pop-up adverts telling you how easily you can give them your savings.
Typical encouragements include offers such as a “£25 risk-free first bet and a £25 free bet after the next five bets”, “a £50 free bet when you sign up”, and “get £200 now”. (Apparently “Matthew S Just Won £107,047 Online”. Good for you, Matthew S. Well done, old son.)
Problem gambling is on the rise. According to a recent report, the number of 18 to 35-year-olds getting in touch with GamCare, Britain’s leading gambling advice service, has risen for the third year in a row.
One 24-year-old estimated he had gambled away £20,000, partly through smartphone gambling apps.
In total, 8,813 young people contacted GamCare for help over the last year – and a helpline advisor suggested that was only the tip of the iceberg.
According to one study, 451,000 people were classed as problem gamblers in 2010. That’s 0.9 per cent of the population and a rise from 0.6 per cent in 2007. Not a massive figure, admittedly, but where will it stand in 2020?
Danny Baker, the radio DJ, once summed up gambling rather well. Next time you’re in a betting shop have a look at the number of windows where you pay in, and then look at the single window where they pay out. Tells you all you need to know.
Keith Harrison is away