Former gambler whose addiction led to jail for stealing £192,000 to fund his habit backs new specialist Sunderland clinic
A reformed gambler whose addiction led to a jail sentence has urged others with similar problems to contact a new specialist clinic.
Steve Ramsey – who was placing up to 500 bets online through his mobile phone from 6am to midnight – was speaking at the launch of the free National Health Service Gambling Service at Sunderland’s Beacon of Light.
Mr Ramsey, jailed for stealing £192,000 from his council employers to fund his habit, has not had a bet for nearly two-and-a-half years and said: “If you think you have a problem then you probably do.
“So speak to someone and somewhere like this clinic and its specialists can only be a big help.”
The Beacon of Light clinic, just the second of its kind in the country outside of London, opened on Wednesday and is staffed by a consultant psychologist, consultant psychiatrist, clinical psychologist and senior mental health nurse.
Gamblers can refer themselves for help and the Sunderland team will also be backed by specialists based at the service’s Leeds headquarters.
Mr Ramsey, 53, adds: “I am so pleased they are up and running and that more will be coming.
“If they can stop even one person from going through what I have been through then that is a success in my eyes.”
Mr Ramsey’s problems started around a decade ago when he was introduced to online gambling and, in particular, in-play betting on football matches.
He recalls: “I was in my local pub one evening and there was a match on the TV, Aston Villa versus West Brom.
“Villa were on top and one of the lads said they would score any minute.
“I checked online and it was 14/1 for Villa to score before half time via in play betting with about five minutes left.
“I placed £10 on this, my first ever in-play bet. Villa scored and in that instant my life changed.
“£140 was won in a blink of any eye. It was exciting, exhilarating and easy. I had never felt that feeling before whilst gambling.
“I had discovered in play betting and it was instant, easy accessible and literally available 24 hours per day.”
His losses, however, soon began to escalate and eat into his savings with additional debt piled on through credit cards and loans.
While Mr Ramsey says he has never calculated how much he has lost, he estimates that around £1m in betting transactions passed through his accounts.
He adds: “I was hooked. Somewhere in the world there was always a game to bet on.
“I was betting on some ridiculous football in Brazil, the Czech Republic, Holland, Iran, even under-17 games.
“At one stage I could be betting 500 times a day from 6.01am after waking up to midnight.”
Working as a council finance officer recovering debts, he began to substitute the authority’s own bank details for his own over a four-year period before he eventually told his employers, police and family in 2017.
The confession triggered the end of his long-term relationship and resulted in a 27-month jail sentence.
Mr Ramsey, a first-time offender, recalls: “Jail was everything you imagine times 10.
“You hear about the violence, the drugs, the conditions and the overcrowding. It is all of these things.
“Experiencing all this was massive in my recovery and I never want to go back.
“I remember my two daughters coming to visit me and the fear in their eyes.”
Tagged on his release after 10 months in November 2018, he is gradually rebuilding his life with ongoing support from his family, friends and Gambling Anonymous and has started work with an industrial flooring company.
Mr Ramsey, who has moved back to his native Newcastle from Nuneaton, says: “I understand addiction a lot more now and realise that it led me in the direction I went.
“The fact I am happy to support the new clinic shows how far I have come in my recovery.
“Just over a year since my release from prison I am repairing relationships damaged through my actions, I am in work and now have my own place.”
In England, around 265,000 adults are classified as higher risk problem gamblers with around 2.4million judged as being “at risk” from developing a serious gambling problem.
There is no suggestion, however, that Sunderland’s problems are worse than other parts of the region with location and transport links among the reasons cited for the clinic opening here.
Clinic director and consultant psychologist Matt Gaskell says: “There are problems all over the country and often it is people who have the least who are most affected.
“So it is important that we get into densely populated areas of the country.”
Among the help on offer will be psychological therapies, addiction treatment programmes and mental health treatment.
Family and friends of gamblers are also encouraged to seek help for their own associated problems.
Summarising the issues they have dealt with already in Leeds, Mr Gaskell says: “We have seen family members who have lost their loved ones over a gambling-related suicides. Most of the people we help have had problems with depression, anxiety, deep financial problems, relationship and employment issues.”
He adds: “The most important step is to come along and have a consultation.
“There is a message of hope. Recovery is very likely and treatment can transform your life.”
The service can be contacted on 0300 300 1490, by email at [email protected] or throughout its website at https://www.leedsandyorkpft.nhs.uk/our-services/northern-gambling-service/