This, my friends, is a betting shop, as I’m sure you are aware the ‘William Hill’ betting shop. Nothing unusual about that I’m sure, except that on this particular high street, this particular branch is one of eleven betting and pawnshops scattered along a fifteen minute high street ‘jaunt’. But since I don’t want to start this discussion on a sour note I’ve decided to share the redemptive tale of Mr Farrar with you instead.
‘Eugene Farrar combed his hair, put on his best suit and polished his shoes. He wanted to make sure he looked the part for the moment he chose to turn his life around. On a spring afternoon last year, the 42-year-old calmly walked into a betting shop in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, and told a member of staff: “I want to self-exclude – I’ve had enough.” Self-exclusion is a formal process whereby a person can ask a bookmaker to close their account and stop taking their money.
Just hours earlier, he had told his wife Tracy the secret he had been hiding from her for 12 years: he was a gambling addict.
Now, more than a year later (this is in 2012), Farrar is perched on his chair, eyes welling up as he recalls the day he says he “got my life back”.’
– Simon Murphy ‘The Guardian’ (April 2012)
There is really nothing more applause worthy than a man or woman taking aggressively radical action, in order to get their lives back on track. Films get made about them, books get written about them, and we cosy up on the sofa to watch documentaries about them. They inspire us (or rather they inspire me), to ever greater heights of self-discipline and self-restraint though oddly enough,it never occurs to us to take the story of the individual and put it in context. Now, I can’t focus on every addiction but I can focus on this one because this particular addiction, whilst aggravating already existent difficulties, in our communities, also completely challenges the governments assertions, that we are well on the road to economic recovery.
It came to me divinely, this sudden revelation, as I took my time (for the first time ever), to walk down my local high street and casually look around me. The sun was shining and the weather was mild, I nodded my head at a neighbour or too (it’s a small neighbourhood), ten minutes into my breezy little stroll it suddenly hit me. I’d already passed five betting shops and three pawn brokers. Now I know that my high street couldn’t possibly be that long, so I retraced my steps and this time I counted the shops,yep! There were eight pawnbrokers and betting shops in a walk that it had taken me about ten minutes to make, I continued down the high street counting shops, five minutes later the final count came to thirteen pawnshops and betting shops. Anybody recall Harrow Public School? Just twenty minutes up the road from this high street. Has anybody ever heard of Harrow Weald? I didn’t think so, but that’s part of the neighbourhood this high street, services. Harrow Weald is a ten minute bus ride away from the high street, and it holds four betting shops, all of whom are doing a roaring trade,exceptional trade in fact, particularly when you bear in mind the degree of poverty and social deprivation many who live in this neighbourhood experience (in 2011 Save the Children reported that over 7,000 children live in poverty in Harrow). So, the betting and pawn shops are thriving,the job centres are thriving and the luxury goods stores (you know, the shops people in jobs, and earning good money visit?), are stagnating. Very few people are walking into these shops on any given day and buying. And the reasons for that are obvious, they’re either not in employment, or the bills need paying with the little money they have. Which makes you wonder where all the money deposited in all these thriving betting shops is coming from. Take for example, Paddy Power, operating income 136 Million Euros, its revenue? 653.8 Million Euros. William Hill, operating income £325.6m, its revenue £1,276.9m. The profits made by these businesses are like a shining beacon drawing in people seeking a short cut solution, in difficult circumstances, and who can blame them? But if these solutions worked, the local food bank, five minutes up the road from three betting shops,would have shut up shop by now.