Back in the 70’s a trip to the seaside (Withernsea or Bridlington for me, living in Hull) meant a bag of chips, an hour on the beach and then hot-footing it to the amusement arcades to slot in some copper. The machines then were simple little gadgets, nothing flash, you never really won or lost anything and it was all good fun.
Little did I know that I was actually being groomed for something far more sinister, and eventually, thanks to those antiquated, simplistic little pieces of shit I became a debt-ridden, depressed and fucked-up victim of the life wrecking disease that is gambling. As the industry grew so did the technology, and like something out of an Arnie-inspired sci-fi flick, a new breed of machine was constantly being churned out, better graphics, brighter colours, bigger prizes, a short-lived, bullshit fix that I, unfortunately fell for. My first experience of the roulette machine was a very profitable one, I remember having £15 on me and walking out 30 minutes later with £380, fuck me I thought, this is easy, I’ll quit my job, play these every day and retire in five years. In my dreams. By the end of the following day I’d lost the £380 plus another £200 trying to win the fucker back. That was always the problem with me. I HAD to win it back, it wasn’t just about the money, it was personal, no way was I going to be had over by a piss-taking chunk of flashing glass and circuits. I went through some very bad times and on more than one occasion I would even feign illness at work just so I could leave early and try to avenge myself for a previous night’s mugging.
The saddest thing, which even now makes me shake my head in disbelief, was when I sold my gold chain which was an eighteenth birthday present from my parents. I was skint and it was still almost a week until pay day. I’d already borrowed £100 from my brother and another £150 from my girlfriends dad which I managed to lose in one afternoon; I sold the chain to a mate for £60. I think they’d paid about £200 for it and, well, you can guess the rest. All pretty shameful stuff I know. I cannot believe how much money I blew over a period of twenty years; I could have paid my house off with it. Whilst my story is a pretty shit one I did eventually manage to wake up one morning and summon up the strength to decide that enough was e-fucking-nough. I’d spent thousands, money that I’d worked for, in one hand and out the other. It was an awful realization but I was an absolute wanker and it had to stop! I still gamble occasionally but not in the reckless manner in which I used to; I have a small limit and once it’s gone, that’s it.
Today down any high street there’ll be a bookie’s and inside them the biggest draw for many, especially the 18-25’s, is the machines. You don’t need to know anything about form, ground conditions, or any of that nonsense; just slip your tenner in, select your game, close your eyes and then cross everything from your fingers to your bollocks. Every machine will tell you that it has a good payout percentage and that all games are random; that is fucking garbage! They are designed to win, and very rarely did I myself or anyone else standing beside me ever walk away a winner. Punching, spitting, cursing, I’ve seen it all, the spitting thing being the strangest and vilest of the reactions to blowing your rent money. Yet all are synonymous with the game. I know a lot of people will say the blame lies at the feet of the gambler and that nobody forces them to do it and in some respects I agree with that, but like any addiction once you’ve been grabbed by it, it’s fucking hard work to escape its clutches. It makes me laugh when a spokesperson for a mega-wealthy bookmaker claims there is no proof that they are encouraging gambling and that in no way are they responsible for any of the misery that it can bring. Pricks! The blame may not be solely theirs but to say that they’re not contributing toward it in anyway is totally outrageous.
In every bookies there’ll be a small poster on the wall or a sticker attached to a machine saying ‘Gambling should be fun, gamble responsibly’ and then a helpline number if you’re having problems. It's a token gesture, you only ever notice them when you’re slotting in your last fiver or watching a weeks wages fall at the first fence. Those warnings should be pasted on the doors and windows before you walk in.
I know lots of gamblers, some hard working and some retired, who do bet sensibly and within their financial limits. I also know many others, long term unemployed, spending every penny of their job seekers; desperate figures who beg, borrow and steal. Whatever it takes to give them their ten minute fix before the machines pull their trousers down, slap their arses and kick them out the door. Despite the misery I’ve put myself through, I neither love nor loathe it, gambling was my choice. People will always gamble and to be honest I think people should be allowed the right to gamble; I suppose it’s about priorities, food in the cupboards, pay your bills etc, etc, or slip into your nearest bookies and go mental.
You know what they say about a fool and his money. Well it’s true, and despite the £20 I’ve placed on Hull City to win promotion back into the Premiership, I think/hope I’ve learned my lesson.