Eeny, meeny, miny, mo

I know all too well the impact that gambling can have not only on the gambler but also on friends, relatives and colleagues.

By the age of 49 I had lost hundreds of thousands of pounds due to this terrible addiction. Gambling landed me in the criminal justice system for over eighteen years, ten of which were spent in prison.

Since 2012 I have not had one desire to gamble. However, my thoughts have been directed towards seeing changes in society by campaigning for better legislation and understanding within this area. As a result I founded Gamserve in 2013. This Christian organisation is committed to seeing changes in society to better protect those at risk from developing a gambling addiction.

The main goals of Gamserve are:

  • To see a watershed on all gambling adverts.
  • To see a locking/unlocking device accompanied with age verification on all Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).

We are therefore very excited by the current review by the government into both the impact of televised gambling advertisements and FOBTs! This review was announced in October by Tracey Crouch (the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage).

“The media have dubbed Fixed Odds Betting Terminals the ‘Crack Cocaine of the gambling industry’.”

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs)
The lure of these machines was so great that in 2005 I resorted to crime to satisfy the need to ‘play’ them. Unfortunately this need proved insatiable. This resulted in a 5 year prison sentence.

Shortly after being released I felt an overwhelming desire to play the FOBTs once again. So in 2011 I substituted crime with credit, amassing debts of over £10,000 within a 3 month period. The consequences of this nearly resulted in the loss of my new home and close friends.

These were dark times and thoughts of suicide would plague me at times.

What are FOBTs?
An FOBT is a type of electronic gaming machine on which players may bet on the outcomes of simulated games and events (such as roulette, blackjack, bingo and horse races). The odds offered being fixed from game to game. Each terminal can take up to £100 every 20 seconds.

The media have dubbed Fixed Odds Betting Terminals the ‘Crack Cocaine of the gambling industry.’ It is easy to see why they are referred to in such a way, as the combination of high stakes and high speed lead to players quickly becoming addicted. When playing an FOBT there is no time to think about your actions. People often begin to play with the expectation of a large win which can be almost instantaneous (£500 per 20 seconds in theory). For me, this was the initial draw. However, even when it became apparent that this was a way to lose rather than make money, the pace of the machine provided an adrenaline rush and the risk compelled me to carry on. I believe this is the case for many gamblers.

Gambling is an emotional rollercoaster. The elation of a rare win is mirrored by a sense of depression, guilt or anger when a loss occurs.

Campaigners are calling for the maximum stake on these machines to be reduced from £100 to £2. To me this feels like a step in the right direction and I pray the government review comes to the same conclusion. Although the machines can still be played, the negative impact can be greatly reduced.

Councils and FOBTs
93 councils in England and Wales have called for the highest stake to be reduced to £2.Newham council led the campaign, saying it would help prevent clusters of betting shops particularly in deprived areas.
(Source BBC news)

“Her two children can recite just about every gambling advert there is.”

I know I’m not the only one who is influenced consciously or subconsciously by adverts. Repeated slogans from TV adverts past and present. Things like, ‘Holidays are coming’ or  ‘Have a break, have a K…..’.
I know of children who associate particular songs with the product before the artist!

Therefore, I feel the impact of gambling adverts on children and the vulnerable must be taken seriously. Karen Bradley, the Culture Secretary was recently quoted saying her two children can ‘recite just about every gambling advert there is’.

Currently bingo, lottery and sports adverts are exempt from a ban on TV gambling adverts before the 9pm watershed. We at Gamserve are calling for a blanket ban on all televised gambling advertising before the 9pm watershed as this will better protect the young and the vulnerable.

We have an active petition which can be found on our website.

We realise that in the U.K. there has been very little research into this area, meaning there is not a lot of evidence to support our claim. However, it seems clear to me that the adverts do have an impact. If advertising didn’t work- no one would produce them!

Interestingly, the latest news from Australia suggests that sports betting ads could be banned on public transport and near schools under a proposal by the Victorian Government. This is because gambling is widely seen as ‘normalised’ within the adult and child communities. I dare argue it is the same in our localities.

A Hope and A Future
Since 2012, as stated earlier, I have not gambled. Through wise counsel from friends at my local church I have been able to set safeguards in place, repay debts and develop accountability. Having not ever had a stable family life of my own, I was astounded by the grace and love offered to me by a local couple. Not only did they let me live in their house and meet my physical needs, but they loved me unconditionally and called me a member of their family.

During the 4 years I lived there I found my character began to change. I had peace instead of anger; I had love instead of hate and incredibly I was given self control. Since setting up Gamserve, I have found myself in situations I could never have imagined. I have spoken to MPs, directors of the gambling industry and even a high court judge. I have also been on the radio and local TV.

I am so thankful for the opportunities I have had and still have to influence change. Sometimes it feels slow and frustrating, but I know real and lasting change takes time.

I’m glad I can be a part of it! My life has been turned around.
It’s not just the gambling that has changed though. In July of this year I finally flew the nest of my ‘adoptive’ family. On the lovely sunny day of July 24th my ‘adoptive’ family, many new friends and locals turned up in their best clothes to a small Methodist Church near Loughborough.  If you haven’t guessed- it was my wedding day! I had met the lovely Pam just over a year before when she came to stay with us. Over the course of that year we had begun to see more of each other as our friendship developed into something even deeper.

Having accepted that I was destined to lead a single life, I was surprised to find myself with someone by my side. Her lovely smile, intelligence, integrity and wit along with a shared faith made her the perfect match for me.

Now we are beginning our new life together, excited about the future and hoping that as a couple we can impact society for the better.

How to Help
If you would like to help our cause you could:

  • Sign the petition!
  • Share the petition on social media
  • Write to your local MP
  • Write to a local newspaper
  • Talk to your peers about the issues.

If you or someone you know is affected by these issues help can be found in the ‘need support’ section of the Gamserve website.

If you would like to know more of Ian’s story you can purchase his book ‘Forty Years a Gambler’ from Amazon in ebook or paperback formats.