Playwright Ranjit Bolt doesn't need to write a story, he's got his own to tell about a fun poker game that turned into a gambling addiction.
''I've gambled online and in live casinos, but neither has the same uniquely sordid appeal as a betting shop.''
Ranjit is a man who brushes shoulders with the elite. Take the evening in question, he had been invited to an old friends party. A mix of artists, talented people in show business. He left his three piece suit at home and dressed in scruffy tracksuit bottoms and a fisherman's sweater that had more holes than wool. This was his normal attire for another session at the north London betting shop which he had become a regular.
He's greeted by a nicotine-stained old guy in a raincoat who plays a strange system on the fixed odds betting terminal. He bets in such a manner - small stakes - that it seems a pointless exercise.
''I used to watch small-scale punters like this with contempt. I've always been a big-bet man myself, usually staking the maximum allowable sum in all the major chains (£100) on my preferred game – blackjack. Then one day I found myself in a Ladbrokes shop on a Saturday afternoon with every station occupied. I waited a quarter of an hour for a seat to come vacant. It was then that I realised that the size of the bet didn't count for anything: I was just as desperate and sleazy as the rest of them.''
However, that realisation did nothing to stop him to frequent the one place he in so many ways despised.
''So I would find myself, at 9.50am, hovering on the threshold of William Hill in South End Green, waiting for the joint to open.''
Assessing the situation with similarities to an alcoholic waiting for the off licence to open on a cold winters day. Self respect lost. Pitiful.
''I've gambled online, and in live casinos, but neither has the same, uniquely sordid appeal as the betting shop. It's the tackiness of the betting shop that, for me, puts it without peer as a means of wrecking your life. And among the charms of the betting shop, blackjack has the greatest appeal.''
Ranjit considered his love of black jack was the illusion that you are somehow in control being able to take another card. Unlike horse racing, roulette - you place your bet and that's it. The thrill of getting that third card to make 20 or 21.
The ease with which players win or lose on these gaming machines. It's akin to a railways vending machine. Unlike those you mostly get nothing back.
The betting shop lighting creating an appealing but equally dismal ambiance.
''Why am I here?'' Ranjit answers: ''Clearly I am some kind of schmuck.''
He used to play poker with an old friend. It turned into a fortnightly home game complete with league table and annual trophy! He found that Texas Holdem addictive to the power of 10.
''One day in February 2005 I asked the old pal in question if there was anywhere you could play Holdem online. He chortled and gave me the name of a "reputable" site. That night I opened an account and began to play.''
''I started in a restrained way – five or six hours a day – maybe a bit more if I had no work on. Soon I was convinced I'd struck gold. Here, at last, was the steady, reliable source of income I'd been dreaming of ever since giving up a well-paid job in the City to concentrate on, of all things, translating 17th-century French verse comedies.''
He played five or six hours a day and was convinced he'd struck gold. A reliable income stream he'd been dreaming of. Telling friends he'd discovered a new string to his bow. The ''fish'' (a term for bad players) out there were easy prey. However, he was now struggling to convince himself that he was making a living from the game. Only after several weeks of loss before he suspected that something was amiss. In fact, checking his bank account he viewed a loss of £4,000 in a matter of weeks.
''I was an addict by now, of course, and that kind of self-delusion is standard addict practice. Worse still, because of the peculiar nature of gambling addiction – many experts reckon it's the hardest of all addictions to cure – once it dawned on me that I was in fact losing, I figured the only way to recoup the money was to play more and then yet more.''
A three-day non-stop session led to a tingling index finger such was the numerous times he clicked the mouse to bet or fold. Everywhere he looked, he saw playing cards. He considered this as simple some sort of short-term optical glitch and hurried back to his laptop to resume play.
''I called my GP, fixed an emergency appointment and got myself straight down there. "You're mad," she said, perhaps more accurately than she'd intended, when I had described the situation. "You have a history of mental problems. You should not be doing this. Go home, switch off your computer, or better still, chuck it in the bin and take this pill and get some sleep."
The doctor placed a large white tablet in his hand and already he felt better. He decided to take the tablet after a couple of hours more play but drifted off mid-hand without taking the pill and woke up a couple of hours later feeling as if he was dying...
Days and nights without sleep had led to a massive atrial fibrillation. The ambulance took him to A & E while a paramedic sprayed something on the roof of his mouth and ask about his next of kin. At hospital a drip was inserted into his neck. After 20 minutes, his pulse was back to normal but stayed in hospital for the day as his body ''rebooted''.
The dark side of gambling had hit home but it hadn't always been that way. There were astonishing highs. During a lucky streak he had moments of feeling astonishing wellbeing. The time he turned £2,000 into £80,000 over a period of just three weeks. (Ten minutes later all that money had gone and he was left feeling suicidal).
To be finished