Sunderland gambler who frittered away £30,000 online urges other addicts to seek help

A gambler who frittered away £30,000 in less than a year through online betting has urged other addicts to take advantage of the help he is finally receiving.

Sunday, 26th January 2020, 8:00 am
A Sunderland gambler has urged addicts to seek help after he racked up debts of around £30,000 online in little over a year.

The Sunderland man jeopardised his relationship and home as his secret habit ate into his savings and led to him taking out expensive pay-day loans.

While the bulk of the debt was built up on online slot machines via his phone, his losses continued to escalate after he switched to football and started betting on the number of goals and even yellow cards in games.

Relieved when his “deceit” was finally uncovered by his family, he was referred to the city branch of the North East Council on Addictions (Neca) and says he has not had a bet for six months.

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Neca's gambling manager, Dianne Robinson, at the service's Sunderland office.

He has now praised Neca for helping him recover and urged others to seek help for what he calls a “silent addiction”, adding: “People should not be scared or proud to ask for help.”

The dad, who has asked for his anonymity to be respected, was speaking just weeks after the launch of the Northern Gambling Service’s new specialist Sunderland clinic.

Based at the Foundation of Light, National Health Service (NHS) consultants will offer free treatment to gambling as well as support for their friends and family.

Neca, meanwhile, has been supporting addicts in the city for around 15 years, with current problem trends ranging from online gambling to physical fixed odds betting terminals, also known as electronic versions of traditional fruit machines.

Dianne Robinson, of Neca, left, works alongside Jan Young, of Big Deal, which speaks to young people about the dangers of gambling.

The Sunderland dad, who is in his 30s and earns a “reasonable living”, was introduced to online betting about a decade ago and restricted himself at first to spending the “odd fiver” via mobile phone betting apps.

Lured by offers of additional free spins for spending certain sums of money on viral slot machines, his habit began to lurch out of control towards the end of 2018.

He recalls: “The turning point was when I won £5,000 and sensibly took the money out to spend on family things.

“Then some unexpected bills came in, wiped out the money and I thought ‘I have won before so I can win again’.

“What happened next was an absolute nightmare as my losses built up.

“First it was my savings, then it was pay-day loans.

“I was staying up at night trying to recover my losses in secret and was becoming tired and unwell.

“In the end I was around £30,000 in debt and when I was finally found out it was a relief.

“Of course, then those you love have to go through all the pain for the first time as they deal with the mistrust and deceit.”

After visiting his doctor for help to tackle his addiction, he was referred to Neca’s Sunderland branch, in John Street, and began free one-to-one sessions with a trained adviser.

The Sunderland dad says: “They are so helpful and it is all very informal. I never felt pressured.

“The conversations are relaxed and may only touch on the gambling once or twice until they get your trust.

“Eventually they get to the bottom of what was leading you to gamble in the first place.

“For me, it was not for enjoyment or for the rush. My problem was different.

“It was a necessity because I thought it was a way of funding my lifestyle. But it does not work.”

Now rebuilding both relationships and his life, he has organised a managed loan to pay back the £30,000 debt.

Early temptation arose, however, with the start of the current football season back in August.

He recalls: “After I switched to football I was betting on matches like the Dutch kids’ league, corners, yellow cards.

“So when the football season started again, it was difficult at first because I was watching games and thinking how many goals would there be and how many corners there would be.

“Now you have VAR and all the emotions which go with it with goals which are suddenly disallowed.

“There was that game the other week, Sheffield United versus West Ham, where the second goal was disallowed by VAR right at the end.

“Imagine how you would have felt if you had backed more than one goal to be scored and thought you had won?

“I am so happy I do not gamble any more.”

Neca has helped around 900 people across the region with gambling problems in the 12 months ending March 2019.

A similar number are expected to have received what the charity refers to as “psycho social intervention” by the close of the 2019-20 year.

Gambling manager Dianne Robinson said the age group with the largest number of clients was 26-35, when people usually begin to build up disposable income, and added: “People come to us when they are at the end of their tether.

“It is a secretive addiction because you do not see physically how it affects people.

“People come to us stressed and worried and yet many seem more at ease once they start talking to someone about their problems.”

Neca runs its services on behalf of nationwide gambling charity Gamcare and initially offers free treatment lasting six-eight weeks with advice available over the phone or face-to-face.

Support extends to relatives affected by gambling.

It also works in association with the new Northern Gambling Service NHS clinic at the Beacon of Light, next to the Stadium of Light, which is staffed by a consultant psychologist, consultant psychiatrist, clinical psychologist and senior mental health nurse.

Clients there can benefit from psychological therapies, addiction treatment programmes, mental health treatment, family therapy and peer support from those whose lives have already been adversely affected by gambling.

While the Sunderland clinic is the second of its kind in the country, there is no statistical evidence that the city’s gambling problems are worse than other parts of the region with location and transport links among the reasons cited for the Northern Gambling Service moving here.

The most recent nationwide data suggests there are around 265,000 adults classified as higher risk problem gamblers with another 2.4million judged as being “at risk” from developing a serious gambling problem.

Anyone wishing to use either Neca or the clinic can self-refer for help.

Neca’s Sunderland premises is also home to Big Deal, again operating on behalf of Gamcare, which is targeting tomorrow’s potential gamblers by visiting schools, colleges and training providers to educate youngsters for free about the pastime’s dangers.

Big Deal outreach worker Jan Young said: “Certain types of gaming, for instance, where you can purchase things to help you play, is almost like an introduction to gambling.

“Then there are youngsters living with problematic gamblers who are stuck in the middle of it and may not have the means of dealing with it.”

*Neca appointments must first of all be made by phone on (0191) 5623309.

A 24-hour GamCare national helpline can also be contacted on 0800 8020133.

BigDeal can be contacted locally via email at [email protected] with further information available at www.bigdeal.org.uk

The Northern Gambling Service also takes self-referrals and 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/