Gambling is no longer a seedy, behind- frosted-glass activity. We now have bookmakers with clear glass windows and doors splattered with adverts, bonuses and inviting offers, opening from 8.30am until late.
Judging by the sad state of the Rugby town centre, bookmakers and charity shops seem to be the only thriving businesses around.
The internet has also opened many more doors for gamblers who wish to remain private.
Bingo, lottery, casino games and even fruit machines can now be played online for huge sums of money. And nobody knows you’re doing it. TV and newspaper advertising is massive. Top-rated TV programmes are sponsored by gambling sites. It’s all very dangerous indeed.
My awareness of current trends began last year when a friend asked me to speak to him on a completely unrelated matter. He was in the bookies.
After many years free of offences I felt comfortable going there. Bookmakers were never my thing anyway.
Upon entering the establishment I honestly thought I had used the wrong door. The ambience was very relaxed, inviting and comfortable.
The smoking ban probably changed my image of bookmakers, however I couldn’t help but notice the number of machines and people sitting at them.
Curious, I looked over shoulders and saw credit balances of £200, £300 and above. One press of a button took the balance down by £50. Yes, £50 on one spin of a roulette wheel.
Roulette was always in my day purely a casino game, along with poker, blackjack and high-stakes fruit machines. Less than five minutes later one machine was being reloaded with a wad of £20 notes, the other had a balance of £25 - more than £500 lost in five minutes.
I had the chat with my friend and left. The rest of the day I could not get out of my head what I had seen - £500 in five minutes, in a town centre bookies, with no real signs of displeasure from the players.
Was this an everyday occurrence or did I just arrive at a remarkable moment?
I decided to investigate and I discovered the incredible sums that are ploughed into these machines.
Ten to 15 years ago there were fruit machines in bookies, normal machines at 10p to 25p per play. Nowadays the machine income is absolutely huge.
The machines give you options. Not just on the stake but the type of game. Dozens of fruit machine games and casino games ranging from 20p per play to an amazing £10 per play. Roulette games in fact can cost £100 per spin.
In a casino in my day a roulette table took a minute or two to load up and spin the ball. The average time on a bookies’ machine to complete the previous bet and spin the next ball is 20 seconds. Hundreds of pounds can be lost in a very short space of time.
I began noting the types of people and their levels of play in this regard and it is true that the younger person, perhaps without responsibilities, was the higher roller.
However there were upsetting times when a young woman would be almost in tears as what appeared to be her last £10 note was eaten up by the roulette wheel.
That, in my perhaps old fashioned opinion, appeared to be bread, milk and nappies for the week dropping into the cash box.
The bookies I visited do have notices on their walls with helplines for problem gamblers.
Unfortunately - and I speak from painful experience - gamblers will never take a leaflet off a wall or admit whilst ‘in action’ that they have a problem. A wall notice is nothing more than a token gesture.
Then there are the pubs, of which Rugby has many. When a drinker has had “one too many” the licensee has a duty to refuse to serve any further alcohol.
But what about gambling? I witnessed one man lose £3,000 in an hour, then visit his bank and lose another £1,000.
At no point did the staff suggest he quit or even question his decision to continue. Why isn’t there the same duty of care to the public?
In that hour that man may have lost his business, his family savings or maybe money which was not even his.
Are there no limits? Trust me, there are many more similar stories. People trudge off to the bank or flick through their contacts lists on their mobiles - any way to raise cash with which to gamble.
Then there are the amusement arcades. Their machines have also changed over the years - and how.
There are £500 jackpot games costing £1 or even £2 per spin. These are incredibly popular and players are enticed with free drinks, snacks and hourly free games.
Again the balances can reach £600 or £700 and these can be spent in a couple of hours. Jackpots of £500 are won daily, however staff are frequently “without notes”, hence cannot change back coins and pay out until machines are opened up.
This encourages the players to play on or maybe wait half an hour before payout.
As in the bookies or at the pub, players are allowed to play on and on. Not once did I hear a staff member even suggest that enough might be enough.
I have watched in horror as ladies made trips to the bank for another wad of cash. Again, was this money they could afford? After talking to some I am afraid not.
I have heard stories of loans, overdrafts, credit cards, mortgage money, rent money and so on. Why are there no limits?
If I had access to cash in my day I would gamble it all. Every time.
People in these lines of business must know this. Gambling addiction is neither new nor unheard of.
Where do we go from here? Well I would like to talk to anyone who has a problem, has a relative, husband, wife, son, daughter or friend with a problem and try to help.
Gambling is naturally a very secretive activity and it takes a lot to admit to.
The gambling establishments, however, need to take a real hard look at their policies and take steps to help conquer this horrible addiction.
They must have a duty of care.
n If this report strikes a chord and you would like to discuss any gambling problems call 07768 8 57668 or email BPS247@mail.com.
The name of the writer has been changed to protect his identity.