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A Hundred to One by Pat Sheedy: Confessions of a gambling addict make you feel sorry for him, sorrier for his victims

Reading this sobering account, you can’t but hope for a better future for the author

A Hundred To One
Author: Pat Sheedy
ISBN-13: 978-1804580585
Publisher: Gill Books
Guideline Price: €18.99

A recent ESRI study estimated that one in 30 Irish adults has a gambling problem. That’s about 130,000 people spending more than €1,000 a month on average. These figures wouldn’t have come as a big surprise to Pat Sheedy, a self-confessed gambling addict since he was a boy.

He first set foot in a bookie’s as a 12-year-old in Limerick, but it was a big winner in 1989 that really got him going. In order to feed his growing habit, he needed money that his factory wages didn’t provide so his series of “schemes” began: robbing a cheque from his neighbours, stealing a pal’s bank card, overdraft cons at the bank. Naturally, the law became involved and his long-suffering mother had to bail him out on more than one occasion. Getting off with probation or community service made him feel like “the human equivalent of Teflon”.

While you sympathise over what he describes as a lack of self-esteem, you feel far sorrier for the victims of his crimes. When his parents speak at the family day at a treatment centre he only agreed to attend to get out of serving prison time, Sheedy finds it “humiliating”, but what must it have been like for them?

Sheedy spent 10 years in recovery, carving out a good life for himself before one stop into Ladbrokes sends him into an even worse spiral. Crimes, lies, and debts build up until his luck finally runs out and he gets sentenced to prison.

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While pedestrian prose sometimes causes this memoir to drag, the harrowing sections dealing with the gambling, the scams, and the law have something of a car crash: you can’t turn your head away from about them. A trip to Wales for a rugby match shows in no uncertain terms how hopelessly in trouble he really was.

The writing is especially strong, as one might expect from a two-time winner of the Listowel Writers’ Week short-story prize, when explaining what such an addiction is actually like, pointing out how “in individuals with a gambling problem, losing money comes to trigger the rewarding release of dopamine almost to the same degree that winning does”. Losing keeps you gambling, in other words.

Sheedy is now a free man, having paid for his crimes. Reading this sobering account, you can’t but hope for a better future for him and anyone else similarly afflicted.