SPECIAL REPORT: Gambling, Fife’s invisible and destructive addiction

Gambling can be a destructive addiction
Gambling can be a destructive addiction

That small flutter that can so easily turn into a vicious cycle of debt

An alcoholic, a drug addict and a compulsive gambler walk down the High Street - which one is the gambler? You can’t tell.

Online gambling is growing more popular

Online gambling is growing more popular

Nevertheless, as reformed addict ‘Joe’ explains, this “invisible” condition eventually becomes just as destructive and, arguably, never more so than in today’s 24/7 gambling climate.

What may start as the odd harmless flutter becomes, for some, the first step into a vicious cycle of debt, ultimately destroying families, jobs and lives.

Gamblers don’t even have to physically visit a bookies anymore, with 24/7 betting available online promoted through aggressive “free bet” TV advertising.

A recent study, the first of its kind in Scotland, revealed there are currently 31,000 gambling addicts across the country.

According to gambling advice service Gamcare, the number of 18-35 year olds contacting the service has risen for the third year in a row.

Start crunching more numbers and it becomes easy to understand why organisations such as Campaign for Fairer Gambling make calls for the Government to “wake up” to a growing crisis.

Dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling”, Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are particularly controversial because they offer gamblers the ultimate quick fix.

The touch screen machines offer maximum £100 bets on each spin of a virtual roulette table; a spin which takes mere seconds.

Gambling laws permit four FOBTs per bookmakers, but campaigners note more and more shops open up to accommodate them - especially in deprived areas.

‘Peter’ (23) from Levenmouth said: “Bookies don’t need the horses any more, these machines alone keep them in business.

“They take a maximum bet of £100 per spin, the equivalent of £36,500 an hour, and now they want to put it up to £200 a spin - unbelievable.

”If you see a shop opening now, it’s going to be a bookies, a pawn brokers or a charity shop. - what is the world coming to?”

In the past year, an incredible £86 million was bet through 80 betting terminals in 22 bookmakers in the Kirkcaldy/Cowdenbeath constituency area.

The area’s not exceptional - in Levenmouth and Glenrothes, over £47 million passed through 44 machines in 12 shops.

A spokesperson for Gambler’s Anonymous Scotland commented: “It can be obscene the amount of money wasted in a Saturday afternoon. It’s a serious problem.

“I think people are very concerned about the advent of these fixed betting terminals and I know they have in the past, quite rightly, been described as the crack cocaine of gambling and there are much more of these shops in deprived areas.”

Nevertheless, despite calls to lower the maximum bet (in Ireland stakes are limited to £2) the Department of Work and Pensions decided last week not to take action.

The department did, however, say it considered “the future of these machines to be unresolved pending futher work” and put bookies on notice that it would commission further research into their potentially harmful effects.

Any move to limit their use would be welcomed by one Levenmouth dad, who believes current laws are irresponsible.

“Bar staff might refuse to serve someone who had too many drinks - do the bookies do the equivalent? No.”

Vicious circle brought devastation to family

‘Joe’ (56) from Kirkcaldy hasn’t gambled for 29 years but told the Press he wouldn’t be “on this planet now” if he did.

“Gambling doesn’t go to sleep now,” he said.

“I was really really lucky because you didn’t get credit cards thrown at you or pay day loans - I’m glad I’m not out there today.”

“My gambling started when I was 18 years old.

“I used to go into Johnny’s Bingo and I would stand
there and put everything
into the machines and that would happen week after week.

“The buzz was there for me. It was the money to begin with and then it becomes a thrill.

“It used to take me an afternoon to lose any wages,
now it would take 20 minutes.”

“It was just a vicious circle and brought devastation to my family. People used to say to me that I had a problem but I didn’t think I had a problem.”

Joe’s habit continued until the age of 26 and he credits Gambler’s Anonymous (GA), which meets every week in Kirkcaldy, for helping him quit.

“If you admit you have a problem you can do something about it,” he explained.

“I always know where I came from and it’s always there for me but I don’t have any thoughts about gambling at the moment.”

GA meetings help members through informal, non-judgemental support - whatever is said in the room, stays in the room.

“It’s men and women who sit and talk about their problems. GA will help anybody who wants to stay away from gambling,” said Joe.

n Gambler’s Anonymous meets in Kirkcaldy every week and new members are always welcome. Helpline 0370 050 8881 - open 24 hours.