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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 June 2005, 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK
The human cost of online gambling
Roulette wheel
Place your bets! The spin of a wheel is all it takes to lose everything
Online gambling may be growing in popularity but as punters rush to place their bets, there are fears internet gambling is plunging people into debt.

BBC News talks to two people whose lives have been affected by internet gambling and asks a counsellor what can be done if you suspect you or a relative has a problem.

The gambler

David doesn't see himself as a gambler - that's why he can't understand how he almost lost his job and ended up with 10,000 of debts from playing online roulette.

If anything the 42-year-old from Sheffield is a bit of a scrooge, the sort of bloke who is always at the back when it comes to buying a round.

You can turn things around in the early stages, you don't have to lose your job, home and family.
Adrian Scarfe
Gambling addiction counsellor

Neither of his two brothers likes a bet, nor do his parents. As a teenager, David played the fruit machines but that petered out after getting married and raising a family.

About a year ago, he downloaded some roulette software and was lucky, winning 800 and 500.

Then slowly his luck turned.

Some nights David would come home after a game of squash and a pint and find himself still sitting at the computer at nine in the morning.

Why we gamble
A way of escaping stress or problems
Lure of the buzz, excitement, high adrenaline release
The competitive element - trying to beat other players, the bookie, or the dealer
The thrill of risk taking, placing large bets

The job suffered and he often called in sick or arrived late at lunchtime. He had told his colleagues about the early wins, but the losses he kept to himself.

His stakes got higher - losing a month's wages in a night was nothing unusual; one time he put 5,000 on a credit card.

To stop himself betting David has given his computer mouse to a friend. Other mates have changed the password on his gambling accounts, but he has opened new ones.

Gone is the excitement of winning, and in its place is anger and disappointment.

Living on his own and divorced, roulette is a way of beating boredom. Once he starts playing, time disappears. Money doesn't seem real.

Most days he can control his gambling urge, unless he has had a couple of drinks. Then he feels invincible and wants to win his money back.

Last weekend, he was given a lifeline, winning 8,000 in an hour and a half. The money almost pays off his debts.

David says he has been lucky and hopes he has got the roulette out of his system.

The relative

The death of her father on Boxing Day last year came as a shock to Nancy and her family - he was a big, strong 57-year-old who gave no hint of the heart attack that would take his life.

Also hidden were the gambling debts that her father Paddy had run up during the last months of his life.

Card player with poker hand
Card players always reckon they have an edge over the house

They only came to light when Nancy's husband started going through Paddy's paperwork. The family knew he played poker online, but thought it was for fun, no money involved. Not even his wife knew.

Nancy's parents had moved up to Cheshire from Southampton to be closer to their daughters and grandchildren and had left a lot of friends behind. Paddy didn't play snooker anymore, or visit the casinos, and needed a bit of fun.

But things got out of hand.

One night Paddy lost 1,200, and there were multiple credit card debits for 100 a time.

From the betting patterns, it looks as if Paddy was trying to win back what he had lost. It didn't go his way, and in the end he owed about 20,000.

The family have paid the debts, though no one quite knew where the money was going to come from.

Nancy knew it wasn't her fault, but she can't help remembering that it was one of her old computers that Paddy used, and she got him broadband to make surfing the net easier.

It still nags that maybe the stress of the losses was what brought on the heart attack.

And that is why Nancy is so passionate about online gambling and the effect it has on families. She wants to see it banned.

The counsellor

As clinical practice manager at gambling addiction counselling and advice service Gamcare, Adrian Scarfe doesn't believe you have to hit rock bottom before you can come back up.

"You can turn things around in the early stages, you don't have to lose your job, home and family.

"Start with a bit of serious honesty; take a step back and do a bit of self analysis. Nothing too difficult or too psychoanalytical but ask yourself a few questions;

  • Am I spending more time online than I thought I would?
  • Am I finding myself thinking about going online, thinking about gambling and when I can get time to do it?
  • Do I keep my gambling a secret from friends and family?

    "If you are answering "yes" to any of these, then you are at risk of developing problems, or are already on the way.

    "A next step to take would be self exclusion. Close down your online gambling accounts - this is a clear commitment and admission that you are getting into trouble.

    "A more permanent move is to install software on your computer that stops you accessing gambling websites. You could also get in contact with your service provider and ask for blocks to be put on your computer.

    "Start talking to people - call up a help line. It is anonymous and not too intrusive.

    "Have a look at online gambling help centres, which have chat rooms and online advice.

    "Take practical steps."


  • SEE ALSO:
    The growing allure of online poker
    02 Jun 05 |  Business
    Poker firm bets on 5bn flotation
    02 Jun 05 |  Business
    Bets on for poker site to float
    27 Jan 05 |  Business
    Betfair expands with Yahoo deal
    25 Jan 05 |  Business
    WTO rules against US gambling ban
    11 Nov 04 |  Business
    Betfair races into Aussie market
    22 Jul 04 |  Business


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