Offaly footballer, Niall McNamee.
Offaly footballer, Niall McNamee.

McNamee hails GAA's approach to gambling


By John Harrington

Offaly footballer, Niall McNamee, has hailed the GAA as being world leaders in their approach to gambling.

The Rhode club-man once had a serious gambling addiction himself which he eventually sought help for, and is now an ambassador for Extern Problem Gambling who provide support for problem gamblers.

The GAA have taken a strong stance against gambling by prohibiting sponsorship by a betting firm of any competition, team, playing gear, or facility/

The gambling awareness campaign ‘Reduce the Odds’ was launched in 2018, and the Healthy Clubs Project has also been to the fore in helping GAA members with gambling addiction.

McNamee believes other sporting organisations could learn from the GAA’s approach.

“On a world scale, I'd say the GAA are one of the world leaders on it,” says McNamee. “In that there's no gambling advertisements, no sponsorship on jerseys or any of that.

“The Healthy clubs, health and well-being officers do a lot of work with addiction, more so on drugs and alcohol, but they're moving into gambling now too. I think they've been very pro-active on it.

“I would have done a bit of work and got a lot of support from the GPA as well, and they would have given a lot of help to county players with one-to-one stuff. The GAA space is much broader, in terms of membership, so it is harder to get that professional one-to-one stuff, but they are trying to infiltrate into the clubs as best they can, be it through health and well-being officers and so on.

“It's not easy. You're trying to educate people as best as you can. I think Colin Regan up in Croke Park is phenomenal in terms of where he's at and what they're trying to do.

“I've spoken to a lot of people across different sports, AFL and so on, and when they hear what the GAA are doing, they really are shocked in terms of the impact its having on communities.

“That's the beauty of the GAA - it's a tight community. Whatever is happening in a club, I think people recognise it, and a club then is a wider version of society.

“The GAA have tapped into that, they can create a bit of change by going into the clubs, because then that will hopefully filter out into the wider community as well. There's more that can be done, but in terms of where they are at the moment, they are doing very well.”

Niall McNamee of Offaly during the 2020 Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Offaly and Kildare at MW Hire O'Moore Park in Portlaoise, Laois.
Niall McNamee of Offaly during the 2020 Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Offaly and Kildare at MW Hire O'Moore Park in Portlaoise, Laois.

The name of Extern Problem Gambling’s new initiative is the ‘Hidden Problem’ campaign which McNamee says is an apt title because gambling is such a secretive addiction by nature and it’s difficult to know if someone has a problem unless they admit it to you.

When his gambling addiction was at its height, he played some of his best football for Offaly so there were no outward signs his life was in disarray.

“My own gambling was very secretive,” says McNamee. “I was doing it way too much and I obviously knew that it was a problem, so I didn't talk about it too much.

“Listen, if I'd a big win, I'd tell everybody, I'd be the first one to spread it! But as the years progressed, I became very, very secretive. So I wouldn't really talk about it all.

“I could walk out of the bookies having lost the price of a car, I meet you on the street and we'd have a full-blown conversation and you could walk away thinking, 'Jesus, he's in great form.' That's the secretive nature of it. It only rears it head really when it reaches crisis point.

“I could go out and perform, play games, you're in the moment. You hear top level sportspeople now talking about staying in the present, that's probably what I was doing back those days without even realising it.

“It was just always the next ball, the next score. But when you close the dressing room door and you're on the way home, that's when the same issues arise again and they have to be dealt with.”

A general view as Niall McNamee of Offaly kicks a free during the 2019 GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 1 match between Offaly and London at Bord na Móna O'Connor Park in Tullamore, Offaly. 
A general view as Niall McNamee of Offaly kicks a free during the 2019 GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 1 match between Offaly and London at Bord na Móna O'Connor Park in Tullamore, Offaly. 

McNamee believes gambling addiction is becoming a bigger problem in Ireland every year.

The media is saturated with ads for gambling companies so you can’t escape it, and during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown there has been a huge surge in online gambling.

“I think anyone who has their eyes open and is aware of it will be able to see it,” says McNamee.

“I watch a lot of sport and you can't go to an Ad break without seeing two or three ads for gambling companies. Most sporting events are sponsored by them, a lot of radio shows, a lot of competitions are sponsored by gambling companies.

“Definitely Covid then as well, it's a funny one because I remember in the recession back around 2007/2008, I was actually looking forward to it because I was thinking, Jesus, this is great, I won't have any money so I won't be able to gamble.

“But the opposite actually happened. I started to gamble more. I don't mean more in terms if financially, just more frequently. It just happened that I probably wasn't as busy. I think a lot of people during lockdown are probably in a similar situation where they're working from home and it's a lonely time. People are living in the same house as each other and getting a bit claustrophobic.

“People often think about gambling and just the financial aspect of it, you're winning or losing money, but that's probably only about 10 per cent of the actual problem. The biggest thing is those things I mentioned, the personal behaviours that somebody has.

“It might be lonliness or a bit of anger or a bit of whatever, resentment, their life might feel out of kilter and gambling is a great place to go to disappear into a world online and just gamble away on your phone and switch off for a couple of hours. I think the last year or so has been very, very challenging for a lot of people.

“Having said that, it might have also given people a chance to reflect on their behaviour and what they have been doing over a number of years previous to that.

“Some people might be realising they've been wasting their life away and gambling too much and it's actually brought it home to them over the last number of months that the problem come to the fore a little bit more because they weren't able to leave the house to go to a bookies or you couldn't gamble on the phone as much because you're surrounded by people at home or whatever.

“There's two sides to it, but i would say that largely it has had a negative effect in terms of the last year and Covid and people being at home and a bit of boredom and loneliness and stuff like that and gambling was a good escape.”

Niall McNamee of Rhode celebrates after the final whistle of the AIB Leinster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Semi-Final game between Sean O Mahonys and Rhode at the Gaelic Grounds in Drogheda, Co Louth.
Niall McNamee of Rhode celebrates after the final whistle of the AIB Leinster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Semi-Final game between Sean O Mahonys and Rhode at the Gaelic Grounds in Drogheda, Co Louth.

Part of Extern Problem Gambling’s new ‘Hidden Problem’ initiative is a helpline you can text to be put in contact with fully qualified addiction counsellors.

McNamee believes that will be hugely benificial because he knows from his own experience that gambling addicts are often reluctant to reach to family and friends or don’t know where to access professional help.

“I suppose from my own experience the good news with this is it's giving people a tangible helpline that they can reach out to and get professional help more or less off the bat,” he says.

“A lot of the people that would contact me fairly regularly throughout the year, be it family members or people who are struggling themselves, a lot of time they don't really have anywhere to go.

“Obviously there is Gamblers Anonymous meetings and that type of support is there, but some people are nervous about approaching that type of avenue in the early stages.

“Just to have somebody experienced at the other end of the line who is a qualified addiction counsellor and have gone through the process themselves. For it to be free as well is a huge thing.

“From a gambler's perspective if they've lost a lot of money or are struggling financially the last thing they want to do is pay €40 to €60 to a counsellor so the fact that it is free as well is important.

“It’s important to get as much support out there to people as possible and to bring it to a wider audience of people nationally is a good thing as well.”

Less than 1 percent of people who could benefit from treatment from problem gambling ever seek it. Extern Problem Gambling provides support for anyone affected by problem gambling and offers remote services by fully qualified and accredited addiction counsellors.

If you or someone you know needs help with dealing with gambling, you can get help and support now by sending a text to Extern Problem Gambling on 089 241 5401 (ROI) or 07537142265 (NI).

For more details, please visit: https://www.problemgambling.ie/