There are countless good reasons why I've never crossed the threshold of a bookies. First and foremost is my poor relationship with lady luck. However, it's also about my natural inclination towards chain smoking fistfuls of cigarettes and chewing my fingernails to the bone.
Given my own weaknesses I'd be afraid to throw 20p in a slot machine, let alone risk throwing away my life savings on a four minute horse race. So I should have seen World of Warcraft coming.
My involvement with the game began late in 2005. I'd recently witnessed a friend of mine give his life over to grinding Bog Faeries in EverQuest II. It was my first experience of an MMO, and I was fascinated with the idea that a genre so seemingly dull and pointless could be so compelling.
But WOW was different. My first steps into Azeroth revealed a gaming vista unlike any I'd ever experienced. Even newcomers are presented with a smorgasbord of content, storyline and opportunities to develop their character.
Most of all, I was spellbound by the idea of a world that lived and breathed even after I'd logged off. There aren't enough hours in a lifetime, let alone a day, to take all of it in. The game is a completionist's idea of hell.
As for many people, I'm sure, videogames have long provided me with a means of escapism. But WOW's system of near-limitless character advancement and seemingly infinite content became a convenient vacuum into which I could pour all of my disappointments - dissatisfaction with work, a pervading sense of pointlessness, that creeping sense of thirtysomething dread which suggested the moment to grab life by the horns and achieve something had passed me by.
I never had any illusions about the carrot-and-stick mechanics underpinning the game, that system of handing out micro rewards with the ultimate pay-off lying just out of reach. But I felt sure that if I just put in enough time and commitment I alone could break the system and retire victorious.
Not long after creating my first WOW character, I cajoled my faerie-grinding friend into playing. I knew exactly what I was doing - to legitimise your addiction by spreading it to your nearest and dearest is the sickening hallmark of the confirmed addict. Given The EverQuest Affair it's safe to say that relations with his wife were frosty. Until she bought an account and started playing herself.
That first year in WOW represented the greatest period of gaming I'd ever experienced. However, I was finding it hard to break away from a system that rewards you for time expended, while promoting the idea that walking away represents time wasted.
I'm not alone in this. We live in a world where there are those who enjoy the odd tipple and those for whom a bucket will never be enough. But I'd never put the case for outright prohibition when responsibility lies with the individual.
All the same, the argument can be made that while I have a fondness for chips I don't feel compelled to eat them every day, given the health risks associated with doing so. To deny that game design plays a significant role in feeding the addiction cheapens the perfectly valid counter-argument that I am easily addicted and have a weak-willed personality.
Every reward in WOW is as tangible as it is time-consuming to achieve, and success is designed to be simplicity itself. Give enough of your life and the reward can be yours.
Did I really need to spend dozens of hours becoming a master fisherman? Does the pay-off really justify the commitment? Of course it does. Even if the achievement never served a purpose, it would mark one more step towards making my character complete.
Making progress along gaming's longest road generates a warm, fuzzy feeling and, while it might happen by accident once, a thousand times raises an eyebrow. Even when I was playing, I hated these moments every bit as much as I savoured them.
The cracks began to show with the launch of The Burning Crusade and the introduction of a flood of attunement grinds. With an effective gear reset in place, all players were reborn equal.
This was my chance to take part in the true end-game of WOW - raiding. As my guildmates raced to 70 I felt acutely aware that if I wasn't getting ahead, I'd be getting behind by default.
It wasn't just the serious business of raid preparation that kept me hooked. Though it's laughable in hindsight (and something that would no doubt have horrified me before I began playing), getting up at 4am to grind ogres for a blue goat mount seemed like the most natural thing in the world. With the server quiet and my game time transformed into work it felt like efficiency, rather than the lunacy it was.
Then there's the raiding itself. Imagine any other scenario where you engage in a hobby that consumes around four hours of your evening, several nights a week. One that benefits you enormously and requires 24 other people who just happen to be your best buddies for life. Wouldn't that be incredible?
I think it would, but I also know deep down it would be bullsh**. Allying your own character development to the wants and needs of two-dozen other people merely compounds the compulsion to play and retain your place in the group. As with gambling, the more you put in, the harder it becomes to walk away from the table.
If you feel I'm overly cynical about the social experience, take a break from tanking for a few raid rotations or hang up your healing gloves. Tell the guild that you're burning out and you need a break. Then measure your friendship when you return, having created an obstacle to their next shiny gear upgrade.
All of this nonsense should have come to head at the end of 2007 when I embarked on a year of travelling. Instead, while fellow travellers endured 15-hour coach journeys by necking Zopiclone pills like they were soporific Skittles, I passed the time happily playing mental PVP behind closed eyes. It was uncomfortable madness. Somewhere in the bottom of my subconscious a voice demanded that no matter what, I mustn't think about a pink elephant.
My compulsion to play had not dulled by the time I returned home. However, I was surprised to find myself bored and aimless in Azeroth. So I did what any rational idiot does in this sort of situation and upped the dosage.
Now in possession of five accounts I began multi-boxing and, with a set of characters at max level, spent several months doing nothing but running dungeons by myself and gathering gear. All under the laughable pretence that this would allow me to play without being dependent on others, and therefore better able to manage my playtime.
It was the Achievement system introduced just before the second expansion which finally forced me out of the game. Faced with the deepest grind yet, I had nothing invested and so nothing to lose by walking away. I didn't so much quit as just stop logging in one day.
Almost 12 months after going cold turkey, I must confess I dipped back into the game on a whim. But I was relieved to feel nothing. The magic had vanished from my veins.
Since then I've revisited Azeroth - mainly for professional purposes - and found the well of addiction remains dry. When I play now, I sit in that happy category of player who perceives the game for what it is: an extraordinary accomplishment which should entertain, not enslave.
I hated WOW, but I'm not sure I hate it any more. It's more accurate to say I hate the way I threw myself into the abyss - the one that will only engulf you if you choose to let it. I recognised the moment when I was no longer having fun but I couldn't, wouldn't, walk away.
What saddens me most about those years is that, for all of the incredible and memorable times I had in WOW, I missed a hundred other great gaming moments. I wrote countless other, undoubtedly excellent games off because I saw them as being pointless and lacking a persistent purpose. I forgot how to have fun for fun's sake.
Fallout 3 may have been an embarrassment of riches and I'm sure that Super Mario Galaxy was an ecstatic, surreal sugar-high. But, along with so many others, those games sat next to my television gathering dust during the WOW years.
I couldn't tell you a thing about them that wasn't third-hand knowledge. I only remember glancing guiltily at my consoles and seeing piles of games accumulate like the possessions of a spoilt and greedy child, eagerly awaited but discarded after an hour's attention.
I still believe World of Warcraft is the defining title of the MMO genre. In fact, there's an argument to be made for holding it up as the defining game of the last decade. But a game that good holds up a mirror to your life. If you don't like what you see, turn away.
Reflecting on my own experience, today I view WOW as the ex-girlfriend you thought you'd never get over. The one you bump into, years later, and realise you were happier before you'd ever met.