Betting

I have an addictive personality. Not in an interesting way, though, more along the lines of  ‘eat four Star Bars one after the other’. Or ‘keep begging to play Ace to King even though I’m constantly battered at it by the girlfriend’. Or ‘continue attempting to perform Scottish accent because it amuses me’.

Or so I thought. In actual fact it turns out I’m a gambler, and not a very lucky one.

When the World Cup started, MoneySavingExpert.com started buzzing about a particular betting website and its guaranteed return bet promo. Basically you signed up, paid in a tenner, bet all of it on something and if you lost you got it all back.

Well, I signed up. And my bet failed (sickeningly, the next day the forums were full of lucky sonsofbeeches who’d stuck the refundable cash on Switzerland beating Spain). A few days later the £10 was returned. It felt, idiot that I am, like fake money. Which is, of course, the website’s entire ploy.

Now I’ve enjoyed a few bets in the past without experiencing the hollow-hearted lurch that I’ve now come to associate with my inner gambler. At a birthday visit to a particularly bleak casino (it was in the Midlands) I was transfixed and amused by watching pale faced punters throw £50 notes away across roulette tables with my brother-in-law. I played at it, had fun, walked out around £40 up.

Me and some friends have the odd poker session. We’re not big stakes here – we started at £5 a man tournment style play, now we’re up to £10. But I loved it, and if I lost then it was just a good price to pay for an entertaining night with friends.

Having said that, the head-thudding excitement and then half-hour high I experienced when winning one of the tournaments in almost the final round of the night with some truly thrilling gambling on the turn of the next card should have been a sign. I mean, I still get excited writing about it. Just look at the length of that sentence!

And the serious approach I brought to even playing at betting, from student balls with roulette table tokens or work party blackjack free plays, also point to my deeper urges. Plus every time I check a lottery ticket I truly expect to win. Something about gambling whirrs inside my chest just above my lungs, makes me dizzy, stops me comprehending the odds and whispers to me of just how much I could win in one spin, one roll, one card.

Fortunately, I am not an ambitious gambler. The £10 I got back on the website was nibbled away in £1 and £2 bets, and enabled me to have fun picking some crazy long-shots, like Brazil beating North Korea by six, or Alonso scoring a hat-trick. Or Rooney actually scoring. Ah hah.

Soon enough the money had gone, but I thought I’d stick another £10 in. Clearly, this was even more of a warning sign than the shallow breaths that came each time I considered another betting slip option, but I just told myself I’d stop betting once England were knocked out of the World Cup.

England’s eventual early exit was, therefore, a bit of a relief. Except by this point I’d actually won my one and only bet – funnily enough the first bet I’d put on feeling I actually knew what I was doing. A scoreless draw between Switzerland and Honduras at 10-1? The Swiss have an almost impenetrable defence in World Cup group matches, while at the same time looking terrifically useless up front. My £1 was on.

So I won a tenner. The fact that I was already £20 down actually did register, but by this point the one-click wager felt so easy I was effectively treating the whole thing like a game. Especially since I was using a Paypal account to pay for it all, making it doubly simply to fleece myself without having to feel it immediately.

Besides, quitting now when I had £10 of free money was stupid. I may as well use it on some really mental bets. After all, if one came in I’d have ridiculous amounts of free cash. Oh yes, it’s crystal clear that by now my gambler’s brain was doing denial backflips in order to convince me to continue taking risks.

I bet it all away and nothing came up and I forgot all about it. Well, I thought, I had fun (and I really did) so it was worth the money. Slowly, the hold loosened.

Then, the other day, I thought it was probably time to close the account – if only to stop the emails tempting me to keep throwing my money away day after day. And, puzzlingly, I still had money left. Not enough to withdraw, but enough to make a bet. What devilry was this?

Turns out one of my final bets was returned due to an error. Having managed to make the break away, I was suddenly faced with a ridiculous turn of events. Either I left the money, and it hung over me as a readily accessible ticket-to-addictsville, or I just bet it on something stupid and be free. I decided to bet.

If playing games has taught me anything, it’s that you can waste money most effectively by removing any form of skill from the endeavour and replacing it with blind chance. So, obviously, the best way to rid myself of this unwanted amount was to stick it on the roulette wheel. Which duly returned to me a larger, yet still uselessly un-withdrawable amount.

Thankfully it was now that the alarm bells came. It felt like a game, it felt like firing up Red Dead Redemption and sitting down in the saloon and playing betting games with imaginary money. Because I didn’t have the notes creasing in my hand or the tokens gently sweating in my palms it all felt like imaginary money. But it wasn’t. It was mine.

In actual fact, the best way to rid yourself of funds isn’t to play a game purely turned on chance. It’s to play a version of such a fate-directed game that you don’t fully understand. Cue one hand of three card open-face poker vs the house. 8 high. All in. House wins with K high. Account balance: £0.

I wouldn’t say I was relieved. Being able to hit Lobby > Logout was a test of will power, above all because I knew there was £10 from sales on Ebay sitting in my Paypal account. I had finally realised how strong the addiction was, how hypnotic and beguiling the fantasy of this web-based casino really was. I still wanted to play, though.

Which is why the next thing I did was email the website to close my account immediately, before I could even catch breath from realising quite how untrustworthy and unnerving a part of my psyche had turned out to be.

I might have only lost as much as I’d spend on a half-decent night out, but I have no doubt I’d have ended up reaching the £100 mark still making that exact same excuse. And think of how many Star Bars I could buy for that…

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About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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