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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
'Roulette habit was destroying me'
By Adrian Addison
BBC News

Sam is a single mother with a problem.

It's a problem that has dominated her life for over a decade.

Sam in silhouette
Sam enjoyed dressing up and acting like a "high roller"

She is an addict, but she is not hooked on crack cocaine or heroin. Her need, however, is equally destructive.

She is addicted to gambling.

Her particular "drug of choice" is the casino - she estimates she has placed a staggering 300,000 at the mercy of the bouncing metal ball of a roulette wheel.

"I loved it, I adored it. It was everything to me," she said.

"I was playing at being rich, really. I'd dress up and really believe I was this high roller. I'd win. Then I'd lose. And I'd keep losing until there was nothing left."

Her troubles came to a head when she was caught stealing from her high-paid job to feed her addiction.

She was fired and faced a prison sentence.

'Black hole'

Then she was told about the Gordon House Association - a charity that runs the only residential centre specifically set up to try to help addicted gamblers.

Sometimes I dream - I fantasise - about the casino, but I have stopped gambling

She spent eight months there - eight months away from her two young children.

She talked about her experience in an interview for BBC One's Six O'Clock News, in which she cried throughout.

"It was the only way," she said.

"I really had no choice. I had fallen into a black hole. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. Leaving my children broke my heart. But I had to do it. I had to do it - for them.

"My gambling was destroying me."

Gordon House has only three beds for female gamblers - at a secret "safe house" in the Midlands - but, it seems, that number is woefully inadequate.

Faith Freestone
Therapist Faith Freestone says the web has boosted female gambling

Last year GamCare, the UK's foremost charity for helping gamblers, was contacted by 1,492 women seeking help.

These are women they classify as being "in crisis" - that is their gambling is effectively out of control.

Faith Freestone is one of Sam's therapists, a gambling expert with close links to the Gordon House project.

She is currently writing a report on what she describes as "the explosion" in female gambling.

"The internet is making all the difference now," she said.

"Traditionally, most women wouldn't be seen dead inside a bookmaker's. But we are finding more and more are happy to sit for hour after hour gambling online. Often on credit cards, spending money they may not even have."

Casinos are heavily regulated environments
Clive Smith, Newbury

The charity set up the world's first online chat room for problem gamblers - 220 women a month actively seek counselling through this new service.

"It's still gambling and still potentially destructive but it is hidden away," Faith said.

"Gambling has become so accessible and so de-stigmatised that, unfortunately, it can only get worse. As more people are exposed to gambling, more people will become addicted."

Meanwhile, Sam is back with her family.

"It's a daily struggle. Sometimes I dream - I fantasise - about the casino. But I have stopped gambling," she said.

"I've stopped gambling for the sake of my children."

A mother tells of her battle with gambling addiction

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