Gambling and Maths

DESCRIPTION: A retired maths teacher believes that the maths curriculum taught in Irish schools could be encouraging children to gamble in later life.


Harrowing = sad, distressing
Leaving Cert/Junior Cert = Irish national school examinations
Fruit machine = a gambling machine found in pubs
Colourful = entertaining, interesting
Royal flush = a winning set of cards in Poker
Society of Saint Vincent de Paul = a Catholic charity which helps the poor in Ireland
Recession = a period of economic distress
Being down on your luck = Having a period of bad fortune
Hold out for something = wait and hope for something


Tom is a retired ____________ school teacher:

The probability part of the exams includes:

Alison argues that these examples are a more fun, engaging way to teach maths:

Tom thinks people who gamble don't deserve help:

Tom has gathered evidence through doing research about the effect of the school curriculum on gambling

Alison says that Tom's idea is "___________ for thought" (an interesting idea worth thinking about)











Alison: Tom Hodgins is calling from County Louth, my very own home county there. Tom, good afternoon to you!

Tom: Good afternoon Alison. Could I just say first of all what prompted me to make the call. I was listening to some of the harrowing tales related to gambling on Liveline a number of weeks back, and I’m a retired primary school teacher myself, and I often thought the primary school maths course, and indeed the Leaving Cert maths course – because I helped children with Leaving Cert, Junior Cert and Leaving Cert maths – I’ve often thought that I’m really introducing the children to gambling.

Alison: Oh okay!

Tom: Perhaps even teaching them to gamble, believe it or not. The Strand unit on Chance which is introduced in the primary school in 3rd class, so you’re talking about 9 year old children there Alison, you’re talking about spinners and dice and cards. You go into the Junior Cert then and the section on probability and you’re looking at fruit machines and you’re even tying gambling into sport. And the most colourful chapters, I can assure you this, the most colourful chapters in the maths textbooks of today are those dealing with chance and probability.

Alison: But how much Tom, are the youngsters actually absorbing this? Surely it’s just a colourful way, maybe a more tangible way of learning these rather than just throwing lots of numbers at them.

Tom: Yeah it’s just the logic behind incorporating such a topic in the maths course is… Well, if it’s related to gearing children up for later years, for the business world, for introducing them to let’s say risk taking in the business world, I still reckon they could use better simulations. Just for example, in the Act of Maths text, which is the Leaving Cert text, the two most difficult problems in probability. One – involves hitting the jackpot in a fruit machine, and the other question involves a certain golfer called Rory, (who) has one round to go in a competition and then you’re bringing gambling into that sphere of life. But as I say, the most colourful chapter in the books are on gambling. The cover on the text and test maths book for Junior Cert and Leaving Cert has a royal flush, and a pair of sixes…

Alison: Right! I can’t say I ever noticed it but now that you mentioned it it does seem to be quite heavy. Tom, have you seen any evidence? Now, you’re retired now but have you seen any evidence of this perhaps influencing or becoming apparent then that they may start gambling because of it?

Tom: Well I just… In a former life I was the President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Drogheda, I was, for 5 years and

Alison: Great organisation

Tom: And, yeah, very very good organisation. And I still would very much have the ascension spirit in me I would hope, and during my stay there and in fact, during the recent recession, I would’ve noted that many many many of the people who were down on their luck, and many of them who would be very vulnerable and very deserving of help would be holding out for the big win.

Alison: Right, okay.

Tom: And monies and resources that would be really better spent on other areas were being pitted (? – inaudible) away hoping against hope for the big win and people, as I say, very vulnerable and very deserving would only be digging a hole for themselves.

Alison: Okay, alright, so it is, it could possibly, without even knowing it, subliminally playing on the mind, I suppose, of children.

Tom: I think even, more than subliminally, Alison I think, like it’s very very blatantly illustrated and portrayed and manifest in all of the texts right the way from 9 years up. I’m not trying to initiate a campaign or whatever! I’d just like to, if I could get to the bottom maybe of those who develop the curriculum.

Alison: And would you have suggestions then for improving that curriculum yourself? In your retirement!

Tom: No I would just humbly suggest that there could be better simulations other than those relating to gambling.

Alison: But it could be harmless enough? I mean, maybe it’s just because you’ve had time to think about Tom. Is there any evidence at all that this would go on and make school students gamble or maybe in later life?

Tom: Maybe that’s why I rang your programme to see could your researchers get going on whether any evidence was there or not. I’m not sure as to whether there is, but it has often struck me – in the classroom as I was getting the children to make their spinners or throw their dice or whether we were stuck in the middle with an Honours Leaving Cert student stuck in the middle of solving a detailed problem on probability – look what we’re doing here!

Alison: Indeed, indeed. Well Tom Hodgins, food for thought there! Thanks for popping that into our brains and we never know, we might find the answer. Does it lead to gambling on in later life?