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25 February 2014

Gambling addict helped by The Salvation Army

Gambling addict helped by The Salvation Army

A man who lost his home, partner and friends due to a gambling machine addiction was helped towards recovery by Alliance member organisation The Salvation Army.

Andy, 37, lost almost everything, due to his addiction to machines in betting shops, and following redundancy two years ago his ongoing gambling problems hampered his efforts to get a job.

"One big win led me to spend thousands of pounds on gambling machines," he said of an early big win on a fruit machine when he was 17. "I think over the last 20 years I have lost about £30,000 to £35,000 on the machines. I would put £10 in, then it went up to £20, and the £50. When I lost my job due to redundancy as an agency worker two years ago I lied about working night shifts.

"I lied to my partner, to my friends, and I would gamble any money I had in the hope I could make it right again. I lied in about every aspect of my life. I was just focused on chasing my losses in the hope of a big win."

In March last year Andy ended up homeless after breaking up with his partner and tried to take his life by stopping taking the insulin he needed to treat his diabetes. "The only thing I could control was my insulin," he said.

Andy was referred to the Salvation Army Lifehouse centre in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and he attended a course to help tackle his addiction. It was recommended he self-excluded from all the betting shops in his area.

"Self-exclusion works if you're further down the line and are committed to changing. You have to take your photo into the bookies and ask them to ban you. But it wouldn't have helped me until I got to that point of wanting to recover because I wouldn't have wanted anything to stop the possibility of my being able to access the machines.

"There are dozens and dozens of bookies in Newcastle alone, and they all have four machines in. All the time I was in the bookies you see people breaking down, shouting at the machines."

Andy has now moved into a Salvation Army flat while still receiving support.

Ian Monteith, Andy's support worker, said: "Andy's gambling habits cost him everything that was familiar to him, as he would lie to his friends and family about where his money was going, and of course, his whereabouts.

"Over the months myself and Andy worked closely together incorporating support mechanisms to help him with his recovery and rehabilitation."

The Evangelical Alliance has worked with The Salvation Army and other faith groups over many years to push for a regulatory system which more effectively protects vulnerable people from the harm gambling can cause.

The fixed odds betting machines found in bookies are an anomaly in their high stake size combined with very accessible locations. Together the faith groups have pressed the government to take action and limit their availability and cut the stake in line with other gambling machines. Evidence suggests many people with gambling problems use these machines and international evidence backs up the case for action.

Local authorities also need more powers to decide whether they want betting shops on their high streets. At the moment they often cannot turn down applications even if they are widely opposed by the local community. A separate planning class for betting shops would be a step forward, and giving local authorities a veto on new applications would place the power in the hands of those who know their community best.

The gambling industry have defended their interests vigorously, including the suggestion from William Hill that restrictions on machines might lead to horses having to be put down because betting shop revenue, largely coming from machine players, supports the horse-racing industry.

Ladbrokes also announced this week profits were down and that it would close around 50 shops in the coming year.