Friday, June 14, 2024

‘I started gambling at 8, now I want tougher laws’ – BBC News

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  • By Hayley Coyle & Ellie Colton
  • BBC News

Image source, kieren smith

Image caption, Kieren Smith, 33, was a child when he started playing on slot machines on holiday

A Rotherham man whose gambling addiction began aged eight at seaside slot machines is calling for tighter laws around advertising.

Kieren Smith, 33, went to arcades during family holidays as a child and over the next 20 years it spiralled into homelessness and an overdose.

He gave up gambling in 2018 and said after the “absolute chaos” it caused, he now feels “content”.

Mr Smith said: “The writing was on the wall for me – but there is help.

“I was immediately attracted to the bright lights of the arcades, the sounds of the machines and the coins dropping.

“I saw it as a warm and safe environment.”

Over the course of his “gambling career”, Mr Smith estimated he had lost more than £100,000 and is still about £30,000 in debt.

Image source, kieren smith

Image caption, Mr Smith gives motivational talks now about how to overcome gambling addiction

He cannot get a mortgage or a mobile phone contract and wanted to highlight the long-term financial ramifications that gambling can cause.

As well as losing money, Mr Smith said, more importantly, he had lost “so much time when he was not present”.

Mr Smith’s turning point came in 2018 when he said he felt he had three choices: prison, suicide or give up.

“I was just so tired and fed up and knew deep down, it was time,” he said

Mr Smith’s wife also had a mental breakdown due to his gambling, he added, which was one of his lowest points.

He sought help from the National Gambling Helpline who he said were “lovely and non-judgemental” and he is now “in a good place”.

Image source, kieren smith

Image caption, Mr Smith said that gambling was ‘normalised’ around him

But recovery was gradual and he had to sometimes take it “just minutes at a time” without placing a bet.

Mr Smith, who now has a three-year-old daughter, said he does not blame the adults in his life for enabling his gambling as a child but that it was “normalised” around him.

He would like better education for parents around the dangers of gambling and stricter laws about how it is advertised.

It was reported in 2021 that during the average football match, gambling logos are featured more than 700 times.

Mr Smith, a lorry driver, hoped his story will warn the next generation about how harmful it can be.

Image source, kieren smith

Image caption, Mr Smith said he knew ‘deep down’ in 2018 it was time to stop

“It can be fun when done responsibly but you have to be careful,” he said.

Mr Smith also gives talks about gambling addiction and hoped one day to make a documentary about it.

He added: “It is a raising concern especially as people are struggling with the cost of living and with mental health.

“Gambling offers the dangling carrot of one big win that could sort out all your problems but it get get you in a spiral.

“But you’re not on your own, I hope I have broken the taboo that you can talk about gambling and get help if you need it.”

If you, or someone you know, has been affected by gambling addiction, you can find details of support available on the BBC Action Line.

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