From destructive gambling to a new beginning

Published 14 February 2014

The Salvation Army has helped to turn around the life of a man who lost his home, partner and friends because of his gambling habit.

The 37-year-old, named only as Andy, had long had an addiction to gambling machines, trying his first play on a fruit machine at the age of 17.

As luck would have it, he won £200 on his first go, but it was not to be repeated and things only got worse the more he attempted to use gambling to recover his gambling debts.

Being made redundant two years ago pushed his gambling problems over the edge.

He said: "One big win led me to spend thousands of pounds on gambling machines. 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 then £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 started lying about every aspect of my life. I couldn't get myself into the frame of mind to be able to get a job. I was just focused on chasing my losses in the hope of a big win."

In March last year, life imploded for Andy. His partner was fed up with bailing him out all the time and the relationship broke down. He ended up homeless and decided to end his life by stopping taking the insulin he needed to treat his type one diabetes.

He said: "My lowest point was when I split up with my partner and the only thing I could control was my insulin. I stopped taking it and the doctor said within five or six hours I would have been dead."

The result was a stay in the Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital but just when it seemed like things could not get any worse, light started to appear at the end of the tunnel and he ended up at The Salvation Army's City Road Lifehouse in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

He was enrolled on a 24-session course run by NECA, a charity working with people who have addictions.

He also voluntarily signed up to a self-exclusion measure to have himself banned from betting shops and changed the routes he walked to avoid the betting shops.

"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," he said.

"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."

Although he recognises he can never change the past, nor win back the money he lost, he has at least been able to re-establish the relationship with his partner.

He and those working with him are hopeful that this is the first victory in his long-term recovery.

Ian Monteith, Andy's support worker, at The Salvation Army's City Road Lifehouse, said: "When I first met Andy he was depressed and de-motivated following a relationship breakdown, homelessness through losing his tenancy, and recovering from a near fatal neglect of his physical health regarding his type 1 diabetes.

"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. After a short time Andy and his partner were in a crisis situation, and with no rent being paid, they were both made homeless and everything about what Andy was struggling with came to light. Andy lost his home, partner, friends, family and almost his life in the space of a week.

"Over the months myself and Andy worked closely together incorporating support mechanisms such as Gamblers Anonymous and NECA to help him with his recovery and rehabilitation. Andy learned over time to accept his past, build his future and accept that this is an issue he is going to need ongoing support with for the rest of his life, though at a reduced level.

"Today, Andy is working hard to rebuild the relationships with his friends and family, and also to rebuild the trust that was decimated between him and his partner. Andy is keen to help people who are fighting with the same hardship as he was, and to raise a little awareness that a gambling addiction is as much an addiction as substance misuse, and that it ruins not only the life of the person with the addiction but all of the people who are connected to them."

The Salvation Army is calling for changes to gambling machine regulations and greater powers for local authorities to refuse betting shops. It wants to see reduced stakes and prices on gambling machines, and effective self-exclusion measures across the industry.

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