Before I share my story, how do you feel today if you’re reading this, because you have or think you have a gambling disorder?
- Nowhere to turn to?
- The damage has already been done?
- I can’t tell my family?
- How can I live with this?
- My finances are crippling me?
I know these feelings and I’m here to share my story about how my life was turned around. I will share steps that I took, which may be helpful for you? The mission is to provide you with hope. It won’t be easy, it will be a long road, but you can fight your gambling disorder.
If a gambling company has failed to protect you in line with the UK’s Gambling Commission’s (GC) licence conditions and codes of practice you could take it further. I can’t give you legal advice. I can’t promise you success. I can only provide you with hope. I hope my story can give you some foundations on how you can fight the position you are in today.
Gambling companies have failed to protect many, many people in recent years when they’ve been vulnerable. More needs to be done to put this right for you and future generations. It’s time to fight back against the gambling companies!
Table of Contents
A couple of years ago a secret gambling addiction drove a successful and happy family man with young children to the point of no return. I was in crippling debt amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
My mind and body weren’t functioning properly. My daily interests and life became all about gambling. Nobody accept me knew and my addiction was getting worse and worse daily. But someone else did know; the gambling company! They made me a VIP customer, taking me on free days out, offering me frequent, large free bets. I was ‘hooked’ and the gambling company was making it worse.
Gambling took my mind off family issues, it had entered my life and taken it over. This was no longer a fun £5 or £10 bet on your football team winning. I was in a clear vulnerable position and I had very quickly developed a gambling disorder. I didn’t realise I had a gambling disorder, but this pattern flagged up to the gambling company. THEY KNEW and they exploited my vulnerability!
I fully accept I had a responsibility for what was happening, but I was desperate and ill. According to the GC’s licence conditions and codes of practice I should have been protected. When I went from £5 and £10 ‘fun’ bets to losing thousands of pounds per week, it was clear to see the pattern of betting was of someone suffering from a gambling disorder.
There is no question that an income check to verify if I was playing within my means and to check on my welfare was critical at this point. Did this happen? NO…the opposite happened! I was made a VIP and groomed to lose everything my life gave me.
Sadly, the situation only went in one direction from this point. I lost my good health, my pride and ended up in a crippling financial position. I even planned my suicide. The gambling company took advantage of me and my gambling disorder. They did not follow their licensing codes of practice for the protection of vulnerable people.
I tried to get help but where can you turn to? I couldn’t tell my partner, in fact I couldn’t tell anyone. I felt that I had really messed up. I was in debt to such a level, I was ashamed and couldn’t possibly tell anyone. I didn’t think I could get out of the financial side either.
My health was suffering massively. I was a gambling ‘addict’. I had a disorder which had been taken advantage of. I needed to gamble to function and all other aspects of my daily life were suffering.
Thoughts of suicide began, I couldn’t see any other way out. Whilst writing this I would like to tell you that a suicidal thought can be as little as thinking you’re sick of this and can’t carry on. It doesn’t have to be any more intense than that, but let me tell you this is the time when you need urgent help.
Things can change quickly and I strongly advise anyone reading this to SPEAK OUT AND GET HELP if you feel anxious and ‘down’ in anyway. I rang my local doctors for an appointment. This was the first time I told someone I was struggling with daily life and that I was gambling a lot. This was a massive move for me, but I walked out of the doctors no better off. I was just given a phone number, no medication and still in the same position.
I ‘Googled’ and ‘Googled’ gambling clinics, how could I get help? There was just nothing coming up. I also called the phone number the doctor gave me. This was for therapy. I was put on a waiting list and advised this would be around six months. Gambling just wasn’t seen as an urgent medical issue. What was a gambling disorder? It just wasn’t seen as a recognised medical emergency. After all the energy and courage built up to realise I needed help. After seeing my doctor and calling the phone number provided by my doctor…. I WAS BACK TO SQUARE ONE. I was no better off, in fact things were worse. There was no help for me even after trying to get the help I needed. Looking back at this…it really was a real life or death situation. I was suffering in silence daily.
I was feeling defeated. I couldn’t tell my family, I felt worthless, I had let my family down. I laid down on the sofa and couldn’t see any way forward. Offers were coming through on my phone to gamble more. This was my way out and within seconds I was back on the app gambling. I didn’t even know what I was gambling on. Maybe a team with a name I couldn’t pronounce in a country that you had never heard of, placing amounts that was way out of control and based on one thing…the amount I had available on my credit card. Realising what I was doing, the appreciation of money and the small chance of winning such bets wasn’t something my gambling disorder recognised. Of course I lost this bet. I LOST NEARLY ALL THE TIME. This is what someone with a gambling disorder does. By definition we don’t win.
As an online gambler you don’t see or feel the amount of money you are betting. Any wins that do come in are like tokens, tokens that feed your disorder to go onto the next bet. You may win sometimes and withdraw sometimes, but then you reverse it and this happens on repeat until you lose again and have nothing left. A gambling disorder without the correct interaction results in one thing…LOSING EVERYTHING. That would be much less likely to happen if the gambling company followed the GC’s codes of conduct.
This evening everything had got a lot worse. I used all my available credit card balances until they were gone. Thousands of pounds gone and I wasn’t finished. I went on the hunt for credit and my credit score meant it hadn’t updated and it was still showing as good. This lack of live data on my credit file enabled me to apply for further credit. I made various credit applications and was accepted. I wasn’t just accepted for many loans, most of them were instantly credited to my account or within 24 hours.
This week after trying to get help and failing to do so, I lost over one hundred thousand pounds of credit in loans whilst laid on my sofa, in silence. No interaction or questions were asked by the gambling company. I didn’t have anywhere to turn to. I received no help when I tried to get some. I had now made things unbearable by trying to fix myself. My suicidal thoughts weren’t just the odd thought anymore. I was Googling how to hang myself without realising how ill I was. I wasn’t seeing clearly at all.
My children came home and the happiness they brought me took my mind off things. I went outside and played football with my oldest son. We always played with his distinctive blue football. This took my mind off the devastation which was really happening inside and around me. Whether it was lack of concentration or not I kicked the football over our rear conifer trees and out of the garden. We couldn’t find the ball and my son was upset. I felt even more frustrated and worthless.
That evening I went out in my car and drove ten minutes to the local docks. I walked around and stopped, staring into the water. I didn’t want to be here, I had nowhere to turn to and more suicidal thoughts were coming into my mind. As I was staring down into the water I could see something in the corner of my eye and heard some splashing getting louder coming from my left. It was at a distance, but when some members of the public walked past this area and looked down at it, I knew something was there. I started walking over looking down into the water and could see a football hitting up against the steps of the water. It was a blue football. I walked over and had to look two or three times. The exact same type of distinctive blue football me and my son played with earlier was in the water splashing up against the steps. I looked up and it was like everything seemed better. There was a shine through the clouds and I walked back to the car. I knew this was a message for me.
I went home at this point. I love my family and I knew I needed to fix myself for them. After a night trying to sleep, the next morning I emailed the gambling company and self-excluded myself from gambling. Something the company could have done for me a long time ago, before all the damage was really done, IF they had followed the codes of conduct set out for them as a licensed gambling operator. By doing this and self excluding I thought my nightmare was over and I had defeated my disorder. I couldn’t have been anymore wrong. This may have stopped me from gambling, but due to the lack of protection that had been present whilst showing patterns of a vulnerable gambler…this was only the beginning. The damage had already been done and there was no way out for me. My mental state was very poor. My financial state was unbearable. I got through daily trying my best to focus, but I was feeling worse and worse as the days went on. I started planning to take an overdose and planned when I would do it. I still get a very bad feeling inside while I talk and write about this. I couldn’t have been at a lower point in my life, I had tried to get help but failed and a company who had accepted hundreds of thousands of losses off me in a short period of time wasn’t getting hold of the phone or contacting me to see if I was ok. I thought they cared about me, taking me on special events and treating me like a ‘King’. They obviously were only doing one thing and that was grooming me to lose everything.
Everything is a big word and this really was the ultimate everything. Everything for me would have been losing my life, my children losing their father, and my partner losing me. I don’t think there can be any better way to describe ‘everything’.
I’m typing for myself but I must share this. I planned to take my life and this is something that can be made less likely for so many people in today’s gambling world. HOW? It sounds hard doesn’t it, but all that has to happen is, the gambling companies need to do ONE thing, if nothing else …PROTECT their customers better by FOLLOWING the CODES OF PRACTICE.
The next section is sad, but it’s also is the start of a journey that I want to share to give hope about, how you can get the help needed, how you can pursue any wrong doings of the gambling company that may not have protected you. It’s also the start of fighting back against my illness and fighting back against the gambling companies.
The Next Day
I was exhausted when I arrived home that evening. I managed to get to sleep and woke up the next day feeling focused for once. I felt like I had a plan and the plan in my mind was to make this better by contacting the gambling company to stop me gambling. This wasn’t easy at all, I had what’s called a VIP manager. This was someone who was employed to keep in personal contact with me, take me on fancy days out and ensure I gambled as much as possible. In clear words to groom me to feel special and to ensure I lost as much money as possible.
I built the courage up to message my VIP manager and email the gambling company. I’ve just read what I sent again. Something really important in my email was that I asked for a full breakdown of how much I had lost gambling, how had I lost this and why was I never asked for an income check? I didn’t have a clue at this point what these figures were; all I knew is that I was in crippling debt. This we will come back to later! In my email when I read it again, I actually apologised, hoping they would understand and said I’m sorry I have to leave (stop). This is the mental state I had been groomed to be in, I actually thought I owed them and I needed to gamble with them as I was special to them.
I received a sharp, very quick response…”I think this is a good idea and good luck with your future…” Was this it? Am I not this special person you have made me feel? This made me feel even worse. I was alone in my gambling addiction, except for the gambling company and the VIP manager they had assigned to me. After this email I now really was alone.
I was then sent what was set out to be a final email stating I had been banned from gambling and that they had self-excluded me for my best interests. The truth was I had raised the concerns they knew about me myself and self-excluded myself. There was also a link for a company called Gamstop. Gamstop self-exclude you from all online gambling companies. I signed up to this. I recommend anyone who is gambling excessively online to self-exclude using Gamstop and directly with each company.
What happened next?
I was now free of gambling, but I wasn’t free of the damage that gambling had caused to me. A move forward but a 1000 moves back. I didn’t have the option of trying to win myself out of the financial trouble I was in. In fact I had no way of fixing this now. Things were a lot worse without the gambling. When you have a gambling disorder your brain function changes and your behaviour changes! My daily gambling activity was a way for my body and mind to function properly. A way of taking my mind off other problems I was masking in my life. Without the gambling I wasn’t functioning properly! Things got a lot worse very quickly.
I had no one to turn to, the doctors couldn’t help and no one else knew about my gambling disorder. The only people I had ever had to turn to were the gambling company and the VIP manager. This was now a distant memory or should I say it was a distant memory to them, as they weren’t interested in the damage that had been caused to my life. When I say my life, gambling doesn’t just affect you, it affects your whole family when you’re allowed by a gambling company to get in such debt. Debt that is out of your control and debt you’re in, because the gambling company failed to protect you. This is something that made me feel very ashamed and made it very hard to even think about sharing the trouble I was in with my family.
My suicidal thoughts became worse and worse, I was defeated and I wanted everything to end. I started to plan the worst. I started to plan ending my life. This is how low I was. The final and lowest point to losing everything is losing your life. To think someone is employed to groom you into lose everything. That’s what getting into huge financial distress through gambling makes you feel like.
This gambling company behaviour has to stop! I love my family so much and I had let them down. With nowhere to turn to in my own mind I planned on suicide. The truth is you can turn to your family. I only got to realise this after the next stage of my story I’m going to share with you. I hope it gives you hope to know your family loves you and are always there for you. As you will read the way they found out with me isn’t the way it should be done. Your family will likely support you. It won’t be easy, but please do know they can only support you by you sharing your gambling disorder with them. If you can’t tell them verbally write them a letter or send it in a text message. Please tell them in any way you can. No matter how bad it is your family can only support you by you not suffering in silence. I found out the hard way, but I can share that telling your family is likely to be a positive experience. They can only help you once they know your troubles.
Pushing me over the edge
I received an email from the gambling company informing me that I had placed MILLIONS of pounds worth of bets with them. I had lost HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of pounds. I was in a bad way! This is how ill I must have been at the time, I didn’t realise I had placed or lost as much as this. No help in the email, no.. “are you ok?” Importantly, how many people could really have afforded this?
I checked my credit file. I was in big financial trouble. I had hundreds of thousands in debt and my once excellent credit score was now very poor.
Before gambling I would put myself in the ‘good honest businessman’ category and I can happily say I put myself back in that criterion now. Honest is a big word in this! Gambling can lead to lying, it can lead to secrecy, it can lead to crime. There are some people out there who have committed crime, because they have had a gambling disorder. Something that could often be stopped by a gambling company following the codes of conduct set by the Gambling Commission, therefore protecting you. I was fortunate enough not to get in a position of stealing money to feed my gambling disorder. I hope these last few sentences give you hope? Things can be done to get your life back on track. Things can only get better if you address the problems you have. For myself I always paid my bills on time, never missed a payment. I was still the same person inside even though I had a gambling disorder. This situation however; overwhelmed me as I knew the repayments and debt I was in was not something I could afford to repay forever.
I was at home when I received the email outlining my losses. I had to get out the house, so I drove to the petrol station. I don’t think I even needed any fuel. I put some fuel in and went in to pay. I had exhausted all my credit cards. The shop was busy and I was just staring into space trying to come to terms with the email I had received. It came to me paying and I went to pay with my business credit card. This was the only card I had never used to fund my gambling. A family member also had access to the account this credit card was linked to, so looking back it was another way I was keeping my gambling disorder a secret. I put the pin in wrong twice with only one attempt remaining. I had to walk away from the counter and walk around the shop trying to think of my pin. I had used this card regularly every day for years. The pin number had been completely erased from my mind. I was in a very bad way. I had to tell the shop attendant I would come back to pay. You will be glad to know I have been back since and paid. I couldn’t remember the pin. I returned home and things got worse mentally from this point for me.
Illness and hospital admission
I was still suffering in silence. Medically there was still no help whatsoever. I couldn’t cope anymore. I had obtained enough paracetamol to take an overdose.
I very sadly planned to take this overdose. My children went to school and my partner left for work. This was the time it was over for me. Again in silence, without my family having a clue about why or how? I got all the paracetamol out on the kitchen table and got a glass of water. The front door opened and my partner had forgotten something for work. I jumped to try and move the tablets. The whole lot went all over the floor. I thought I was in big trouble at this point! This was the first sadness or sign of illness I had shown to my partner. I actually thought me committing suicide was easier than dealing with my family knowing I had a gambling disorder, and that I was in crippling debt. Let me tell you this is never the case, things can be turned around and your life matters more than any financial difficulty you might be in.
I broke down crying and everything came out. My partner could tell I wasn’t functioning properly: in other words I wasn’t well at all, but I didn’t realise this. My partner took me to the hospital worried. On arrival I felt stupid, I felt like it was a waste of time as there was nothing wrong with me. I remember one of the nurses saying, “I want to get someone from another part of the hospital to check me over.” I was put in a cubicle with my partner waiting to see someone. “What a waste of time” is what I said to my partner. She said no you need to stay and see someone. My partner’s worry of the fact, I could be dead was much more important to her than the debt I was in from my gambling disorder. This is a fact that is really important. You can’t change being dead and your family want you alive no matter how bad the situation you’re currently in is, so no matter how hard it is do open up to your family, it will help in the long term.
After waiting for a while in the cubicle a member of staff arrived. She asked me some questions about how I felt and to be honest some I don’t even remember. I do remember however, that she didn’t ask me anything that made me feel uncomfortable. I remember her shining a light into both my pupils one at a time. I didn’t realise at the time, but one of my eyes wasn’t focusing or reacting correctly. This was one of a number of symptoms they picked up straight away, which hinted that I had already had a major breakdown. This was the reason I wasn’t functioning properly and to be honest wasn’t realising I was ill at all.
Next, I was taken to a part of the hospital I never knew existed. At the other side of the hospital there was an area which I can only describe as being like the ‘Big Brother House’. For those who haven’t watched ‘Big Brother’ it’s basically a house which you live in while being watched. Being watched isn’t how it felt though. Believe me, you are now in very safe hands and nothing goes a miss in here.
There was a very large living area, a freezer with unlimited meals, there was even a garden. 24-hours a day, every day, there were people near who cared and loved their job. You are their number one priority! They evaluate your medical condition and advise on medication that may help you recover. This isn’t forced, it is entirely up to you. I do, however recommend always following the guidance of your medical staff to help your recovery from a gambling disorder. I followed all the guidance and I can proudly say I’m free from gambling for over three years now. I’ve never felt better. I hope this gives you hope this can be you also.
It was some turnaround from wanting to end my life at my lowest point. The nurses spoke to me daily and specialists came in to evaluate my health and problems that faced me. I also remember there being a woman in the ‘Big Brother House’ there that was acting very erratic. It was clear she wasn’t well and I thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing in here, I’m not like that.” There were some quiet side rooms in the ‘Big Brother House’. When I arrived these was full, but when possible I was given my own space to settle in. After settling in and speaking with some great nurses and doctors there was a sense of relief that my family knew and I wasn’t suffering in silence anymore.
My family could visit anytime also, which is important for anyone to know that’s worried about being in hospital. There was no set visiting times and they came to support me and see how I was, at anytime I felt comfortable with them doing so. The nurses asked if you were happy with visitors, so you are in control depending on how you feel.
I struggled to sleep whilst coming to terms with what was going on. This is what I thought anyway. The truth was I was heavily depressed and I had suffered a breakdown. This was the reason I wasn’t sleeping. I hadn’t slept well for a long time when I look back. I was actually staying awake gambling before all this. It’s important you recognise this, because losing sleep can be a major sign you’re not well, so seek medical help.
During the first night in my own room there was a lot of screaming and shouting coming from next door. I got up in the morning not feeling great. I was told there are some showers available and to try to get a shower to help me feel a bit fresher. I was seeing some specialists that day. I left my room and went for a shower. I also hadn’t closed the door when I went for my shower. On returning to my room the erratic woman was sat in there. I didn’t even approach her I just went into the living area and sat down. To my massive surprise it was like a fire alarm had gone off. Nurses appeared from everywhere asking why am I sat in the lounge? I just said there’s a lady sat in my room, so let her have the room. They quite forcefully said, “No, we want you in the room, we are moving her now.” I remember saying its fine I don’t want the fuss just let her have the room. They said no, there’s a reason you’re in there, please go back to your room to relax. I went no problem and wondered what the hell was going on. After a thorough explanation and looking back today the reason was very important. I just wasn’t well enough to think it was at the time. The reason I was in the room was to stay away from the screaming I had heard the night before. It was important that my brain could rest, get away from the ‘hustle and bustle’ of daily life. After a daily life of gambling all the time, I needed to reset and give myself a break. It’s important to get better and get better properly. Medical help is often needed to help aid your recovery when you suffer from a gambling disorder.
After numerous consultations and me being asked what I was also comfortable with, it was decided I would be transferred to a crisis house for a week. I thought, a crisis house, why? The hospital transferred me there and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was taken to a massive five maybe six bedroom house and given my own bedroom. It was a place of great stress relief. This is where the real journey of recovery and getting out of the mess I was in began!!
Crisis house and the road to recovery
On arrival I had no idea what to expect. I really was going in blind, the good thing is that this time it wasn’t a bet and I wasn’t going in blind losing money I couldn’t afford to! In fact it didn’t cost me a penny, which was vital as I had zero money at this point! The reality was I was going for urgent help that I needed through the NHS and being cared by through our national health service and a local charity crisis service.
I was greeted very nicely and welcomed into the crisis home. Nothing felt uncomfortable. A few details were confirmed and I was taken to my own room. It was a beautiful large room, double bed, en suite. I had my own keys, my own space. I was told to rest and be up early the next morning, because the specialists I needed to see were coming. It felt like the weight had been lifted, I was progressing and I really thought, this is great, everything is going to get better.
A night of hell followed, I didn’t sleep much, I clock watched all night, sweating, tossing and turning waiting anxiously for my morning appointment and importantly what became the start of a full recovery. But, I really couldn’t settle or get comfy. I must have managed a hour or two maximum, that’s if I did sleep? I remember it becoming morning, the day of progress. I brushed my teeth, managed to freshen up and started to get ready. I remember opening the bedroom door and walking to the stairs. Everything started spinning and felt dizzy. For the first time I really didn’t feel well. I felt I had zero energy, zero interest in anything, struggling to concentrate and just wasn’t functioning right at all. But I knew this was a massive step forward as it was the first time I actually knew I wasn’t well at all! My body and brain had actually caught up with itself and I had come to terms with my condition.
What had happened to put me in hospital and to mean I needed the help I was getting? It still felt weird that I was in this house, but now I knew I needed to be there, not just for myself but for my family. I went downstairs and at the bottom there was an office with all the staff in. As I walked near the clear glass office door a member of the staff opened the door and welcomed me. It was someone I hadn’t met before. Everyone in the room introduced themselves. They were all so nice and at no point did I feel like they judged me. I told them I didn’t feel so good. They said it was very normal the first day or two that this was going to happen. A weird way of your body coming to terms with a breakdown, the happenings of everything you have been through coming to a head and your body and mind coming to terms with it. It was like my brain telling my body ‘right that’s it we have no more energy for this, it’s time to recover.
After the meeting, I was told to go to have a brew and some breakfast. They say you don’t eat much if you’re depressed. This will certainly be true for many. For me, it was the opposite, I over indulged in eating. My eating pattern and what I was eating was awful. Not only did my gambling disorder affect my mental health, it affected my physical health through excessively comfort eating whilst gambling.
I went to get some breakfast in the kitchen. There was a kitchen which you could use yourself and a lounge you could chill in watching TV. You really were made to feel that it was your own home and you had your own space where you could chill. Nothing was rushed by the staff and this was the start of a slow but very important process of recovery. When I say “slow”, I want to say this to ensure you know that you don’t get magically better in a day. Every day however is a step to being better, days pass and as they go by, one by one, the time comes to the day of being better. So, keep going and the day of recovery comes. I’ve recovered and so can you!
After breakfast the specialists arrived and the real work began. They had most of the information they needed from the hospital, so I didn’t have to go over and over everything. They had a quick run through what had happened and a plan was tailored together by the group of staff at the crisis house. Recognition of the addiction side was very important to what treatment I would be given. Daily sessions from this point were arranged and completed at the crisis house. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions were carried out which I learnt a lot from. CBT gave me the foundations to recognise the triggers for my behaviour, which in essence lead to gambling further down the line. Knowing the triggers enable you to learn how to change the pattern of your behaviour early and to stop gambling. There’s a whole lot more than this to it and all I can do is highly recommend CBT as the right treatment to aid gambling disorder recovery. I’m no doctor or therapist so for me to go into detail wouldn’t be fair or right. Do however please take my word, this therapy I completed was one of two massive parts of me recovering. The other which is probably one of the main reasons your here readings this, we will come to that later!
After a successful short period in the crisis house I left with a plan. The crisis house gave me great support. The staff gave me the welcoming of being able to go back whenever I wished, if I felt I needed to. I was by no way left to suddenly to be on my own. This is how it felt and this is how it was. I had been given the great foundations of CBT and a follow up appointment within a few days to check on how I was doing. They recommended I continue with further CBT sessions.
Disappointingly, I had a long wait to use the NHS for these further CBT sessions. The wait was six months, so this may cause an issue for many. My recommendation would be to check if you have any health cover through work, which could fund the sessions, pay privately if this is an option financially through family and friends or even better ask the gambling company to pay for your sessions. After all a gambling company or companies have responsibilities and they have likely contributed to the need for CBT. There is also some great self learning sheets and videos on this link which I highly recommend: https://learn.problemgambling.ca/eip/cognitive-behavioral-therapy
These delays emphasise the need for people to seek treatment for their gambling disorder as soon as possible. The following are other options for specific gambling disorder treatment, being signposted to treatment and NHS services, some of which didn’t exist at the time I needed my initial treatment:
Gamcare: https://www.gamcare.org.uk/ & @GamCare National 24 Hour helpline – 0808 8020 133.
The NHS has a limited number of dedicated services:
The north of England also has a number of clinics: email email@example.com providing a contact number or call 0300 3001490.
There are lots of other voluntary services you may wish to consider, but they don’t provide CBT, e.g.:
Gambler’s Anonymous: https://www.gamblersanonymous.org.uk/
GamLearn: https://www.GamLearn.org.uk/ & @GamLearn
GamFam: https://gamfam.org.uk/ & @GamFamCharity
For me and for now it was time to go home. Home to my family, still alive and with some sort of plan to full recovery. This felt GREAT! Returning to my beautiful family! A partner who was now supporting me and my beautiful children! Things felt the best they had for a very long time. The massive issue I had was that something hadn’t gone away on return, the massive, continuing debt I returned to.
Returned home and continued therapy…
A million smiles and a million problems, however it was very nice to be home. To see my family, cuddle my children and sleep in my own bed. No more gambling, no more secret addiction. It was good. The first night I really enjoyed.
From now on, even though I had a plan in place, I needed to make things happen to continue recovering mentally and physically. I made sure I got to my check up appointment, which was literally in a couple of days of getting home. I went and it was confirmed again the best thing to do would be to continue CBT therapy. I went home and started the ball rolling to get some organised.
I was very fortunate to learn that I had health cover with my work and it covered me for mental health therapies. This isn’t the case for everyone and, as mentioned, I would recommend trying to get some sessions paid for privately whilst being on the NHS waiting list. I fully recognise this will not be possible for many, but please do try to consider all the options and don’t be afraid to ask the gambling companies.
You can Google CBT in your area and get sessions for around £70. There are lots of options. It’s important to pick a therapist with experience in addiction. With CBT the session isn’t only while you are there for the session. Once learned, it becomes an everyday tool you use. This was a good initial period for the treatment, but it isn’t enough to aid a full recovery from a gambling disorder. You need a long period to recover properly. I personally completed 14 months of weekly CBT one hour sessions, until I was able to go on my own. This gave me a good period time to experience different life events throughout a year, which could lead to your mood changing and how this affected whether you would gamble or not. Don’t stop your sessions, if you miss one and forget, let them know..Ring them apologise and book your next session… YOU MUST CONTINUE YOUR HARD WORK AND TRY TO RECOVER FULLY!
I now use CBT everyday naturally without even thinking about it. CBT really gives you a skill for life, which you can use in many aspects of your life. I t was also very good to have a weekly appointment, which was in essence a weekly check in with my therapist, myself and my gambling disorder. A lot was learned over the period and a lot of progress was made. There were times I was displaying triggers, which we had identified to be a clear starting point for me gambling and I was able to address them by having the weekly sessions.
It’s so important to be open and honest in your sessions in order to progress properly. CBT enabled me to know my triggers, divert away from them and overcome them weekly through the sessions and finally, I was able to do it all on my own. All in all this was one of two vital parts to me not gambling again and me now being over three years gamble free. CBT needs to be made more available through the NHS and importantly as a treatment for everyone who has a gambling disorder. It can play a major role as proved with myself to saving life and providing a big part of a platform to having a full recovery from a gambling disorder.
The huge debt would not go away!
I was a vulnerable gambler;
- I was groomed,
- taken on lavish days out to huge sports events to facilitate losing everything I had and more,
- I planned to kill myself,
- my partner came home and saved my life,
- I went in hospital,
- I went in a crisis home,
- I was alive,
- the secret was out,
- my family was supporting me,
- I was having weekly therapy sessions,
- I had been fortunate enough to overcome the NHS therapy waiting lists,
I was going above and beyond, trying my hardest to get better for myself and my family. It was hard and I was making headway, but I couldn’t progress fully. Why?
Because I had debt well into six figures, due to not being protected as I should of been through the codes of conduct the Gambling Commission set for gambling companies. They have to follow these codes don’t they? No they don’t!
I had the drive to get better, I was healthier, the CBT was working but my mental health could not heal enough for me to be safe, because I couldn’t live with the continuing debt I had. How can you possibly recover from a gambling disorder fully and function properly mentally when your family home was at risk of being taken off you. My children with no home were going over and over in my mind. My credit score was at the lowest it could be and you’re looking at your bank fully overdrawn without a penny in it. The loan payments I had outstanding, which were due, were way more than my income. I wasn’t gambling, I hadn’t for months, I was getting better, but I was left with the financial ‘damage’, whereas the gambling company was left only with the profit they had made from exploitation. Why, surely this wasn’t right!
It was clear to the gambling company I had a gambling disorder. I’d asked my VIP manager not to tell my guests on days out how much I gambled. I hid it by saying I had free tickets to the events. It was clear to the gambling company that I had a secret addiction. It was clear the patterns of my gambling should have been a flag to the gambling company. How crazy for them not to act on this and to continue to groom me, making me feel like a King! The grooming made me feel like they were my friend, whilst getting me to gamble more until I was penniless. The truth was not ‘penniless’, it was worse I had massive debt, I couldn’t pay. I had spent all my own money, maxxed-out my credit cards and then spent every loan I could get his hands on. At no point did the gambling company complete an income check to see whether I could afford the losses. Then when I got the courage to tell the company I’m bankrupt, I was ‘left for dead’ leaving me suicidal. All this left me with a very long recovery and with a huge debt on my shoulders.
Yes, I had to take responsibility for what I had done. I eventually had, but why just me? What about the gambling company and what about the VIP staff who had exploited me and failed to follow UK codes and conditions that were part of the UK’s legalised gambling market? They took no responsibility, just the profit.
Trying to get justice
I searched the internet for help. Amongst the things I found the following stood out.
- The Gambling Commission (GC)
This is the organisation which regulates the gambling industry.
I called and told them about my troubles. I was directed to send them an email, so I did this. Unfortunately, the reply I got was an email confirming the bad experiences I had and some links for self-exclusion, a gambling helpline and for a debt helpline. This didn’t help me. I had already self-excluded, I was accessing healthcare and I knew I couldn’t pay my debts.
I actually needed some help to find out if the gambling company had breached regulations and/or the law. This wasn’t offered, so for me the GC was hopeless. How was it that the organisation that regulated the UK gambling industry couldn’t offer me direct help or signpost me to an organisation that could answer my questions? Once again I had nowhere to turn.
- Justice for Punters (J4P)
I found this website. A website that seemed to understand and knew about gambling companies not following the correct codes of conduct.
It also seemed to be a service which would get no financial gain from helping those who had been exploited by the gambling industry. I now know it’s a service that doesn’t gain financially, all the help they provided for me was free, yes free. There wasn’t just myself who knew about what I had experienced, J4P knew, because they had helped others. This gave me someone to turn to when I was in need financially. It gave me hope. I emailed and received a fast response, which outlined what they offered. The email also outlined how important it was to look after my health first and to be realistic about my chances of receiving any sort of refund, i.e. most people don’t.
I was very ill at the point I made contact with J4P, but believe me, along with seeking medical help, this was the best thing I ever did.
Most importantly you’re reading this now and now is a time for you to continue reading as my experience and self-help guide will give you hope regarding the steps that can be taken to fight back against the gambling company or companies, which may have exploited your gambling disorder.
You do need to keep in mind that J4P no longer offer the same service I received. At the time I got in touch with them J4P had two volunteers helping. Sadly, one volunteer died and the voluntary work has become too much for the one remaining volunteer. J4P has asked the Gambling Commission many times to setup a process that would do the work the two volunteers had undertaken: they haven’t, but there is a chance this may happen as part of the on-going government review into the gambling industry. All those affected by a gambling disorder need to keep their fingers tightly crossed.
Anyway, I digress, I need to tell you about my refund, the impact that had and how this self-help guide might help you to achieve the same.
How was the refund paid and did the refund help
It was a very long journey, a journey full of hard work and one which isn’t easy. No refund is easy, in fact few people have received a refund, but is it possible. Yes it is! How do I know? I received a refund! Did it make a difference to my life? YES IT SAVED MY LIFE!
It started with me sending a subject access request (SAR) request into the gambling company. This isn’t something I’ll go into too much detail about, because the guide which you will hopefully continue to read after ‘My Story’ outlines exactly how you can do it. Please do read the guide thoroughly, you must accept that you have to put hard work into this and you may not receive a refund, but it is possible! It’s crazy to think it, but why should someone who has been groomed and exploited to lose everything they had and more, have a go? As stated, it’s hard, but I managed to do it and so can you!
When you receive your data it will give you the full history of your account. Well it should do. Did mine? NO! Does anyone’s? Probably not! Gambling companies often try to hide important data. You must check everything is there, including third party data from companies who are service providers for the gambling company.
Think about anything that may stick out in your mind about when your gambling went from being a fun £5 bet to you losing control, e.g. periods of high stakes, high losses, long periods gambling, etc. Try your best to double check it all, because I can tell you, if it is advantageous for a gambling company to leave something out, then guess what, it may not be in your SAR. Never forget you’re entitled to it being there.
When you think you have everything, go through it with a fine toothcomb. Look for factors that this self-help guide outlines and highlight everything relevant. This is VITAL EVIDENCE for any hopes of receiving a refund. I worked through mine bit by bit, day by day. Please keep in mind that this might be really difficult mental health wise, so do get someone to help you if needed. Some people can’t do it, it is too upsetting. It’s not something to rush through and get done as quickly as possible. Take time, seek help if needed. This will enable you to write the best email/letter possible.
Once you’ve sent your email/letter the gambling company is unlikely to rush. They will take their time and they will try every tactic possible to deny any wrongdoing. I still to this day have not had an admittance of wrongdoing from the gambling company. It will drag on and this is why it is so important to realise that the more time you spend initially on this the better chance you have. The more notes you make on data were you believe the gambling company didn’t protect you, enticed you to gamble more and didn’t recognise potential gambling harm patterns, e.g. gambling patterns that only someone with a gambling disorder would have….you guessed it! The better chance you will have of any sort of refund.
I finally got my data notes done, it was hard, not only the time I needed to spend doing it, but as mentioned, the effects it may have on you. When you go through your data you’re in a position of no return, you’ve already lost everything, you’re vulnerable, you’re desperate and in my circumstances, I was very unwell. I had to relive the losses, it was hard very hard. I could see the amounts I lost. I could see emails that offered me more free bets in order to get me gambling again in periods when I’d tried to stop and wasn’t placing bets. Also emails of desperation from me asking for free bets, it was very hard. The hardest bit was knowing I had lost everything and it was gone. I had and still do have many private Whatsapps from my VIP manager (the groomer) offering to take me on fancy days out, to get me to lose, lose and lose until I was skint and then hung to dry.
Once everything was analysed and I had sent an emails to the company they refused to take responsibility for anything. I felt was in a very bad position. A broken man literally, no hope and no future to look forward to. How can you possibly look into the future with so much debt, plus the worries of what the future held for my family, for my children? They didn’t deserve this, they didn’t deserve to become homeless. This is what faced me.
The media was the key to getting my voice heard. ‘Justice for Punters’ recommended the media to me. It was a terrifying thought, but sometimes you have to overcome your fears to progress in life and this was just that! Now don’t worry when I say media. I’m fully aware that when you have a gambling disorder you don’t want the world to know. In fact many vulnerable people with a gambling disorder are suffering in silence, because they are ashamed and don’t want anyone to know. I was one of these people and in the same position. Well the good news is…some media outlets would love to cover your story and are happy TO KEEP YOU ANONYMOUS. In fact, some will change your voice, so it doesn’t even sound like you. Please don’t worry about reaching out to them. I’m not saying it will guarantee you a refund, because it doesn’t. Many people covered by the media will not get a refund, but you certainly should consider sharing your experience with high quality mainstream media, e.g. the BBC, Channel 4, and the Guardian.
It will not be easy, but let me assure you, the media didn’t judge me, and they were very supportive. They also reached out to the gambling company and reconfirmed all my data that I had highlighted, asking them how had this been allowed to happen? How have you not protected this man from losing all this money? Money he couldn’t afford to lose. Why was there no income check? Why were multiple credit cards allowed? Why was there no gambling disorder patterns flagged? Why was there no intervention? Why is he in so much debt without you trying to stop it? In fact, you encouraged it! I could go on forever, it was that CLEAR that this should NEVER happen to anyone.
The gambling company didn’t listen to me but they listened to the media. They told them they would look into it and contact me to put this right. The phone rang and a conversation started. Was this real? I still can’t remember it properly today. It was legally recorded however and is safely there for the day I ever do want to have a listen back. Without going into detail, which I would love to do I’ll just tell you the outcome.. MY LIFE WAS SAVED!
I was offered a refund. Did I get offered all my losses? NO. Did the company admit they had done any wrong? NO. Was I in a position to not accept the offer? NO. Was I happy? IN DREAM LAND!
This was the day my life changed. A win at last… I won my life! Everything I had been through came to this one day: the day I got a refund: the support of my family, the support and help off the media and the help from ‘Justice for Punters’ had all contributed towards the offer of a refund. I thank them all!
There were days on edge wondering if it was real. The day came and I received the refund, to clear my debts. It didn’t clear everything, but it put me in a position to continue my life. To get clear of the troubles I was in financially and most importantly mentally. The refund was the second of two massive parts that got me better. I put the hard work into accessing CBT, having counselling, e.g. getting the help I needed! The health support is the most important step to recovery, but a refund is also critical, where applicable, e.g. if a person has been exploited.
Would I have fully recovered with a refund if I hadn’t have had all the medical treatment? NO! I put my health first and then set about received a refund. Whilst the medical treatment was vital, the truth is I don’t believe I would be alive today without the refund. I worked so hard with the NHS staff, with my counsellor, but would I have recovered without the refund? I doubt it. The refund day was the day my life changed and I hope that the present gambling review can ensure that an appropriate free dispute service is put in place to ensure anyone vulnerable who was exploited like me gets fair justice.
…And a question I’ve heard a few times, which I will answer. If people think it is unsafe for a refund to be returned to someone with a gambling disorder then think how to do it. It’s just another excuse for the gambling companies not to take their responsibility if they have put greed before protection. In my case the refund was paid to myself. I distributed the money immediately in order to pay my debts off. If others aren’t lucky enough to be trusted to do this then an agreed contract to repay any debts immediately could be fulfilled by:
- a family member,
- a professional like an accountant or lawyer (as an intermediary),
- or perhaps the gambling company could pay the money straight to the companies where the debts were owed.
It’s not rocket science and just might save a life.
I most probably won’t, but one day, maybe just one day I’ll receive an apology off the gambling company for everything I had to go through. The suffering my family had to go through and the long recovery that has taken years. I would accept a simple apology. If you work for a gambling company and you’re reading this then please try to make your company’s policies as good as is humanely possible. Make your protection procedures stronger, follow the codes of conduct and try to protect those who become vulnerable and develop a gambling disorder to the best of your abilities.
Now for anyone who came here for the self-help guide. Please get reading and good luck. Please have hope, I’ve shown you can get better. Please stick at it, it can be a very long road ahead, but do keep fighting. Take your time and do seek medical help before embarking on trying to obtain a refund. Don’t suffer in silence, too many have, meaning the gambling industry were able to continue exploiting people in secrecy. Those days have to stop.
Once again, thank you to ‘Justice for Punters’, the media, (specifically Lydia and Winifred [you know who you are]), all the NHS staff, everyone else who helped me get better and most of all my family.