Matt worked in betting shops for 20 years, and was addicted to gambling for 15. He experienced a wide range of harms from gambling, particularly in regards to financial problems, family breakdown, and attempted suicide.
I was 11 years old when I was first exposed to gambling. This was a traumatic time in my life – my mum and dad got divorced, and my dad moved out of our home and back in with his dad, my grandad, who gambled.
I went over to see my dad and grandad one weekend. My grandad was sat at the table writing his horse racing bets out. I asked him what he was doing; he started explaining it and then told me to pick a horse out from the paper. The next morning, I woke up and checked the results in the paper. My horse had won at 33/1 and the 3 horses my grandad had chosen all won. My grandad won over £5000 from that bet of which he gave me £20. For an 11-year-old in the mid 90’s that was a lot of money! So, my first experience with gambling was a rewarding one.
From that day on my grandad would pay for me to make a bet on a horse every weekend and we would watch the racing together. I began to bet in lunch break at school playing cards. At 15 I started going to betting shops on my own to place bets. I left school with poor GCSEs because I was only really interested in getting to the weekends so I could bet. At the age of 17 I bet £1000 on a horse at Royal Ascot. All this happened before I was legally old enough to gamble.
I always knew I wanted to work in the betting shops. When I was old enough, a week after my 18th birthday, I was taken on as a cashier. This was a dream job for me at the time! I was able to go to a competitor, put my bets on and then watch the horses run during work. It took me only 3 months to become a shop manager as I already knew everything about gambling and just had to learn the procedures of the company. I went on to work in betting shops for 16 years, running groups of betting shops all over Essex and London, but was still spending most of my time gambling or thinking about gambling.
During my early adult life gambling caused me lots of problems. I would lie about lots of things to get my mum or dad to give me money because I’d lost all the money I’d earned. As I grew older, though I was earning more, my gambling caused all sorts of problems in my relationships with my friends, family and loved ones. My partner and I had two children, whom I loved very much, but I was still focused on gambling, and my partner I split up. I didn’t see my kids for 3 months, when I’d been used to seeing them every day, and this was really hard. I was living by myself, working long hours in the betting shops, and my gambling became more intense as I looked for any way of distracting myself. I became very isolated and withdrawn and my mental health took a turn for the worse as I couldn’t see a way out in which I could make my life better. I attempted suicide.
Waking up in the hospital, with people I thought I’d disappointed around and trying to care for me despite it all, I realised that I had a real problem and I needed help. I disclosed everything to my employers, who put me in contact with Frankie, who had founded Betknowmore UK after he’d gone through his own problems with gambling. We started meeting up weekly and going through my recovery plan. For the first time ever, I felt like I met someone who understood what was happening to me from his own experience.
I began to recover. Once I understood my triggers that lead me to gamble and what role gambling played in my life, I started to regain control. I said to Frankie that I’d like to develop a career to help others. I had always enjoyed the responsible gambling training I’d had in the betting shops. I wanted to use all my years of experience – not only of being a problem gambler, but also my industry knowledge – and put them to good use by sharing my experience to help others. I began to volunteer with Betknowmore, and now I’m employed as Service Manager overseeing the new Peer Aid support service., working 1:1 with clients, and also carrying out workshop facilitation to raise awareness of the gambling harms. I’ve also been given the opportunity to take courses in suicide prevention, teacher training, counselling, DBT and motivational interviewing.
If you feel worried about your own gambling, or feel that you are not able to control urges to gamble and would like to arrange some help, you can either read our self-help resources, or get in touch with our team.
Get help for a loved one or someone you know who is suffering from gambling-related harm.