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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October 2004, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
'My life in slot machine slavery'
By Paul Burnell
BBC News, Blackpool

Blackpool's Golden Mile
There are already slot machines on the Golden Mile
As the government announces its plans to relax the UK's gambling laws, BBC News Online goes to one of the resorts most likely to be affected to ask what the impact might be.

Paul Isherwood knew he had a gambling problem when he realised money had become irrelevant.

As a 10-year-old he used to enjoy playing the slot machines in his native Blackpool, but it became a way of life.

"You know it becomes a problem when it becomes emotional, something you can't do without," said the 32-year-old.

For hardened addicts money takes second place to the thrill of winning, he said.

"It's the buzz like scoring a goal at football."

My mother still wishes she hadn't contacted Gamblers' Anonymous - but I am so glad she did
Paul Isherwood, ex gambler
"At first it was a social thing with friends. When they grew out of it, obviously it became a secret."

He said gambling dominated his every waking minute and he would sneak off from home to play the slot machines on his own.

"I never missed school but I would gamble in secret. You learn to become a very good liar.

"I don't want to say all of the things I did as I am very ashamed of them."

He admits he is lucky to escape its insidious grip on his life.

Mr Isherwood praises his mother who had the courage to admit her 14-year-old son had a problem and got him referred to Gambler's Anonymous 18 years ago.

Even now the stigma haunts her.

Slot machines are the most addictive form of gambling
Professor Mark Griffiths, University of Nottingham
"As a parent you don't want to admit this problem - you think you have failed," he said.

"She hadn't failed and she had the courage to do something about it - she loved me.

"My mother still wishes she hadn't contacted Gamblers' Anonymous - but I am so glad she did."

As the government prepares to change the gaming laws, Blackpool council is hoping the change will pave the way for a massive regeneration based on converting it into a US-style gambling resort.

In the States gambling is tightly controlled and people have to go to resorts such as Atlantic City if they want to gamble.

But turning the famous resort - which already has 5,000 slot machines - into the UK's Las Vegas has raised fears of a rise in the number of problem gamblers by campaigners like Lib Dem Councillor Steven Bate.

We had visitors from the US who were horrified that children were able to play on the 'Penny Falls'
Alan Cavill, Head of Economic Development, Blackpool Council
His presence in the resort is only due to his mother's determination to overcome his father's gambling problem.

She moved the family from the mining community in Hemsworth, Yorkshire to the seaside in March 1957 on his fourth birthday.

"One of the reasons my mother decided we should move away from there was to get him away from that gambling culture," he said.

'Restricted access'

He believes government plans will create an army of fruit machine addicts from those already hooked on gambling in the arcades on the resort's piers and its Golden Mile.

But Alan Cavill, one of those masterminding behind Blackpool's regeneration plans hopes the new bill will restrict access to slot machines for under 18s.

"When we were drawing up plans we had visitors from the US who were horrified that children were able to play on the 'Penny Falls' and fruit machines in amusement arcades," said Mr Cavill, Head of Economic Development

He admits some people could become problem gamblers after visiting the new casinos but says they will kill off the over-18 areas in the resort's easy access amusement arcades.

"Some of these are only separated from the open areas by a spiral staircase."

'300,000 addicts'

The council argues the casinos with their hotels and other entertainment will turn punters into "destination gamblers" - people who have a gambling budget as part of their stay.

But Professor Mark Griffiths, of the University of Nottingham, says the new laws will increase the number of addicts simply because there will be more people gambling.

Professor Griffiths, who used to work for the gambling counselling charity Gamcare, said half of the UK's 300,000 problem gamblers have a slot machine addiction like Paul Isherwood had.

And he warned, "Slot machines are the most addictive form of gambling."

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