It’s a safe bet to say we’re all gamblers now – as addicts end up the big losers

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JUST about all of us will have had a bet at one time or another. It might only be a flutter on Grand National day, or buying the occasional lottery ticket, but we’re still gambling.

For most of us it isn’t a problem, but for a growing number of people in the UK it is becoming a serious issue. Last year, the British Gambling Prevalence survey suggested there are now 451,000 problem gamblers in the UK, compared with about 300,000 just three years earlier.

There are no shortage of cautionary tales about lives that have been ruined as a result of gambling. Last month, a woman from Headingley was jailed for three years at Leeds Crown Court for stealing more than £230,000 while working in the accounts department of a PR firm. She used her position to get money paid into her own bank account by using false invoices, spending much of it over six years to fund her online gambling addiction.

Several well-known footballers have found themselves caught up in spiralling gambling debts. In his autobiography, former Leeds United star Dominic Matteo admitted he’d lost around £1m on gambling, while former Sheffield United winger Keith Gillespie has spoken in the past of his struggle with a gambling addiction that cost him thousands of pounds. And last year, Michael Chopra, who spent a season on loan at Barnsley, publically revealed the extent of his gambling estimating he had lost as much as £2m through betting. He admitted playing with injuries in the past just to make sure he collected his appearance fee so he could pay his debts.

But it’s not just high-earning sportsmen who have gambling problems. The proliferation of online betting companies has seen our TV screens awash with adverts for everything from online poker games to the latest odds on football matches, making gambling much more accessible than it once was.

Rob Williams is a trained hypnotherapist who has worked with people suffering from addictions for the past nine years. He spent time with the York Alcohol Advice Service (YAAS) and now runs a consultancy based at a medical practice in York. He noticed that a growing number of people were coming to him with gambling problems and a couple of years ago he devised a programme to help tackle this addiction.

Rob’s approach is to find and resolve any underlying reasons that might be behind someone’s gambling habit and uses hypnosis to break this destructive cycle.

“The idea is that you find out what the problem is, that’s the key because very often it is deep rooted,” he explains. “Hypnosis on a one-to-one basis allows us to find out where the problem is coming from and why a person becomes hooked on gambling.

“Consciously they will know that what they’re doing isn’t helping them because it destroys lives and relationships, but at the same time it’s doing something for them on a sub-conscious level. So it’s important not just to get the person to stop but to make sure you’ve found the underlying reason feeding their addiction and that this is resolved, because two months down the road you don’t want them to start gambling again.”

The reasons why people develop gambling problems differ depending on the individual. “People tend to assume the excitement of gambling is the problem, but that’s not what I’ve seen in my experience. For some people it’s an escape, perhaps from problems at work or in their personal life, gambling gives them a release. Or it might be that one of their parents played slot machines and they want to prove themselves to this person, but it tends not to be about an adrenaline rush it’s more deep-rooted and less obvious.”

There are dedicated charities like GamCare which provide advice and support to people with gambling problems, but Rob believes more needs to be done. “If you were a drug addict or an alcoholic, or wanted to stop smoking, you would go to your GP and they would be able to help, but gambling isn’t a physical addiction. Partners will go on their computer or use their mobile phones, it’s a secret, hidden addiction.”

In the past, if you wanted a bet you had to walk into a bookmakers, now people can place text bets using their phones, or sit at home with their laptops and fritter away money online. This makes it easier and Rob says he is seeing three times the number of people he did 12 months ago. “It’s becoming more prevalent, you see big betting firms advertising on TV and the sub-conscious message is that it’s socially acceptable.

“There is a big difference between putting a small bet on the National Lottery and people with gambling problems, but now you can play in all kinds of different places and you can bet online 24 hours a day, it’s much more accessible.” The people Rob sees tend to be men, in their early 20s, although the age range can be anywhere between 18 and 50. “The people who I’ve seen tend to be people using slot machines and roulette games in the bookies, or people betting on football matches on the internet, it’s not really people going to casinos.”

The typical amount people spend is around £250 a week although he’s treated some who are spending as much as £4,000 a week. “Some people are spending everything they earn on gambling. In extreme cases they start stealing or selling anything of value they have to feed their addiction.”

Mark is a 20 year-old engineer from York. He has a partner and two children with a third on the way. He started gambling five years ago, but what began as a seemingly harmless weekend habit escalated into a crippling addiction. “It reached the point where between Thursday and Sunday I was spending eight or nine hours a day in the bookies and I was spending £700 or £800 a week,” he says. “I didn’t tell anybody about it and I became distant from family, from my partner and children.

“People have said that they noticed a change in me but I wanted to hide myself away and not be part of my family. Once you start it’s hard to stop and it becomes a vicious circle. It got to the point where I had to go and gamble just to keep myself happy which was just crazy and that was when I knew I needed to get help.”

He contacted a gambling helpline but says he didn’t feel they offered the support he needed. It was only when his father found Rob’s website and he went to see him that he found he was able to begin to tackle his addiction.

“I lost my grandma when I was young and it really affected me and that’s what started me off. But I was able to talk to Rob about it without feeling like I was being judged.”

It seems to have worked because Mark hasn’t had a bet in more than two months. His work takes him all over the country and abroad and he feels it’s far too easy to gamble in the UK.

“There are four or five bookies within a two-minute walk of where I live, they’re on every high street now and they lure people in. I felt safe in there but gambling can be really destructive, it destroys lives but I don’t think people understand because it’s legal, it’s not like drugs. People think gamblers must go to casinos and become addicted but it’s not like that,” he says. “I lost contact with lots of friends though gambling. When they found out they said, ‘we’re always here for you,’ but unless you’ve been in that situation you don’t know what it’s like, you’re always chasing that big win and every day you think ‘this could be my day.’

“My biggest win was £7,500, but that was three years ago and over the five years I was gambling I would definitely be down. During that period I must have spent at least £40,000.

“The hardest part is admitting you have an addiction but once you do that you can start to get your life back. Before when I saw a betting shop I had to go in, but now I just keep walking.”

chris.bond@ypn.co.uk

For more information about Rob Williams’s hypnotherapy programme log on to www.robwilliamshypnotherapy.co.uk