My name is Russ and I’m a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. My Problem Gambling Support Group on Skype recently suggested a topic for us to discuss which was why did we gamble in the first place? What was it that gambling offered that kept us coming back for more. I thought it was a great topic and one which, when thinking a lot about it, has many layers.
First and foremost I want to make clear I am not anti gambling. This is not in any way an attack on gambling and trying to blame them for how they made me feel. I’m well aware millions of people can enjoy gambling responsibly but I am not one of them. What I say here is the way gambling made me feel when I look back at the 14 years I gambled. Most, if not all of the reasons I write about here are how I felt about gambling before I really let the addiction take over. I’ll also add that nearly everything I write here will sound absolutely insane to anyone who hasn’t suffered from a gambling addiction (and maybe even some who have!) and I’m not going to state the obvious that nearly all of these feelings are absolutely delusional. So what was it that made me fall in love with gambling? And yes, I did LOVE gambling.
When I look back I think one of the main pleasures it gave me was an illusion of control. It was me vs the bookmaker and it was all on my terms and I loved that feeling. I picked the games I wanted to bet on and how much I was willing to bet on them. The bookmaker gave me a menu full of various options for each game and I could pick and choose how I wanted to attack that game. That illusion of control was further reinforced when I would research games thinking I could gain an edge on the bookmakers. Win or lose I controlled when and where I wanted to gamble. Sitting at home I would search through the hundreds and hundreds of markets looking for something that took my fancy, I had all of this at my fingertips, in the comfort of my own home, I controlled it all in the palm of my hand.
There is also that glorious feeling of when I got it right, when that bet I had a gut feeling about landed, against the odds. That look that came across my face as I realised I had beaten the bookmaker. The look of a smug prick. Not only was I right but I could then tell my friends or go into work the next day declaring my winning bet to the world. Reminding everyone how I told them the day before over coffee Messi would score first and Barcelona would win 3-1. Overnight, after the bet had won of course, my gut feeling I mentioned in passing to them was now being described as an absolute certainty that I told them about. “What do you mean you didn’t back it, I told you that’s what would happen”.
Even the opposite, when a bet loses but it was oh so close, I was a missed penalty away or a touchdown called back from a winning bet. I honestly preferred the “war stories” as I called them. I got more out of telling people how close I was to a winning bet than I was actually winning a bet. Talking over how unlucky it was with friends and laughing at how close I was to winning. I’ve some excellent war stories I’ll save for another blog, it’ll be cathartic.
It made me feel like my opinion about sport mattered more compared to other people’s opinions who didn’t bet on it. I was willing to not only talk about sport but when I had an opinion I was willing to put my money where my mouth was. Yes, most of the time I lost but at least I had conviction, at least I had the balls to put a bet on it. When the bet landed I felt more intelligent than other people around me, not only was I a genius but I made money because of it.
The social aspect of it all was another big draw for me. There was always sport on and I was always betting on it so I had plenty of ammunition to start a conversation with friends over it. “Any luck at the weekend” was one of the favoured lines on a Monday in work. “Who do you fancy in tonight's match?” was another easy conversation starter.
Winning money was also a nice feeling don’t get me wrong. Being able to make money from my “knowledge” of sport provided such a rush it’s hard to explain in words. Watching a game knowing I have called it right, that feeling, I don’t think I have found anything since that has come close to it. This was also back in the day when I would have used winnings to buy myself something or to go out for the night drinking with friends. Being able to do that “for free” was just such a great feeling.
I also love stats and data, can’t get enough of that shit and gambling gave me an excuse to dive in and try to find different angles to get a bet up. I have had so many different “systems” over the years and all of them were rubbish but I still loved doing the research. I remember thinking that previous head to head meetings in football were a good indicator of the upcoming game. I was going back to 1920 working out the average goals per game or if both teams scored more often than not. I spent hours working out how many times a season the underdog won in the main football leagues across Europe and at what odds did they have to be to make a profit each season.
Although I mentioned the social aspect there is also the bonus, for me at least, that it’s something I could do on my own. I enjoy my own company and to be able to delve into the internet to research bets and to place bets it was like I was in my own little world. When I was doing that nothing else mattered. I wasn’t doing anyone any harm, this was my free time and I was able to escape into the numbers the way someone would escape watching a film.
I will finish on the gambling event that my whole year revolved around, the Mecca of gambling in my honest opinion, The Cheltenham Festival. Those 4 days in March were what I looked forward to every year and when they came around it was a holiday for me. I never went to Cheltenham, I always watched it on TV, but nearly every year I would book that week off work. Screw Summer holidays, my first choice was that week in March. I’d get up early every morning and go to the shop to buy The Racing Post and then sit down over a coffee and breakfast and meticulously go through the card picking out my selections. Then I’d place my bets and sit back and watch some of the greatest horse racing in the world. It always ended in a losing week but that didn’t matter, it was all forgotten about when you managed to pick a winner, usually at a decent price. I’ll never forget picking Lord Windermere out to win the Gold Cup at 33/1 and had £5 each way on it. Of course I lost money that week, but I was one of the few who could claim they had backed the winner of the main race of the week at 33/1 and that was worth more than money to me.