As I waited outside of the shabby side street building in Newcastle city centre I thought about all the actions that had brought me to this point, trying to convince myself that I didn’t have a problem which would mean I didn’t need to step through the door.

I toyed with the idea of finding a café, sitting there for an hour and a half and claiming to my then girlfriend that I had attended the meeting we'd discussed. This was by far the hardest thing I'd done - admitting to myself that I was a compulsive gambler.

I'd researched Gamblers Anonymous online and agreed with friends and family that I needed help for my addiction, but there were a number of steps I needed to take in order to fully face the problem I had.

'I knew it was time to address my gambling'

That first meeting frightened the life out of me. On the one hand, my story didn’t come anywhere close to most of the people's there, with regard to the personal devastation they had created for themselves and their families. But I was also acutely aware that, should I not address this issue right now, I could be the occupier of a similar tale of desperation and loss.

I carried on attending meetings for a while and managed to kick the habit for a year. This should have been the start of me having a life free of gambling but I got complacent and bought a scratch card and then two and then had a bet and suddenly I was back repeating the same negative traits.

After returning to GA I suddenly realised that this was me now, this was my life and it was something that I had to be constantly aware of. I decided my best shot was to be completely open to friends and family about my addiction and I've never looked back.

My name is Ricky and I am a compulsive gambler, my last bet was February 15th 2015.

Gambling isn’t new, in fact it's suggested it dates back to 2300 BC China where circular discs with numbers were found which seem to show a type of bingo. The Gambling Commission describes gambling as 'when you risk money (or something of value) in a game or a bet in the hope of winning money or a prize'. This can be anything from toy grabbers at amusement arcades to casinos.

My earliest memories of being around gambling involve waiting outside the bookies round the corner to give my dad a message. I stood outside wondering what was so special about a smoke-filled brick shed that it would draw in almost every male in the community. My first memories of gambling itself are games such as 'Wally' (throwing coins or pens to see who got closest to the wall). I also distinctly remember having a fruit machine in our home for a couple of years.

Gambling is getting easier 

In the last decade gambling has become more attainable through the internet. In the past, gambling almost certainly involved travel, time, multiple people and licensed premises. Either one of these things may have been a deterrent, making it much harder for young people to gamble.

Fast forward to 2019 and the gaming industry, like every other industry, has changed to embrace the digital world. Goodbye smoky huts and dingy buildings and hello bright and colourful branding and a more welcoming atmosphere to men and women alike. The target market has expanded to include everyone above the age of 18, although a recent study by 888.com shows a distinct difference in the ways men and women gamble, with men betting on sporting events with accumulators and roulette and women playing online bingo games and slots.

It has also become more visible with almost every sport relying on mass sponsorship deals akin to the now banned tobacco sponsorship of the old Grand Prix. Multiple betting shops adorn our high streets with both Newcastle and Sunderland boasting seven plus shops in their city centres.

It's claimed the reason there are so many has to do with the maximum amount of FOBTs (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals) currently being set at four per shop. Like most machines the FOBTs are designed in favour of 'the house', so no matter what amount is taken out of it in winnings, they will always make a profit for the owner. Since April 1st these machines had their maximum bet reduced from £100 to just £2 which is a welcome change and complements the earlier changes that allow users to set limits and time restrictions.

For most people gambling is fun and thrilling and certain types of gambling, like  horse racing or casinos, offer a unique social experience. Why else would people travel to the middle of a desert if not for the lure of bright lights and big dreams? (Oh, and in Vegas, Britney!)

Four times as many children have a gambling problem than two years ago

The number of children classed as having a gambling problem has quadrupled to more than 50,000 in just two years, a report by the Gambling Commission claimed last year.

That study suggested 450,000 children aged 11 to 16 bet regularly, more than those who have taken drugs, smoked or drunk alcohol. Bets with friends, slot machines, and scratchcards, were most popular.

Most people who gamble can have the odd bet on a sporting occasion or even throw a couple of quid in the fruit machine at the pub and it wouldn’t have any negative impact at all. But for some, including myself, gambling can be a sad and engulfing habit. 

I would enter a pub, and, much like a spy making mental notes of the exit points, I would do the same with fruit machines. Unfortunately these would be the thing I would pay the most attention to during my time there, regardless of who I was with.

Online gambling brings the biggest risk because transactions don’t seem real. When there is a physical transaction of money, notes, coins etc. there is a more obvious indicator of when you are going above your limits. There is also an eventual need to walk to the cash point to get more should you run out - and that short walk sometimes allows enough time to stop you chasing bad bets. Online the transactions are so quick, with no physical money involved, which can lead to you spending a lot more.

How can I tell if I have a gambling problem?

I knew I had a problem for years before I did anything about it. If you're wondering whether you have a problem too, why not check out the following?  

• You feel that you are preoccupied with gambling

• Previous attempts to cut or stop gambling have failed

• You feel the need to increase your bets

• You gamble when you feel stressed or upset

• You gamble to try and win back your losses

• You attempt to conceal the extent of your gambling

• You struggle financially because of your gambling

• Your relationships are suffering because of your gambling

How do I get support with gambling addiction?

Gambling is mostly a fun way to pass the time or hang out with friends but if it becomes an issue for you there are a number of options available:

  • NHS Clinics - The NHS have announced they're launching the first Gambling Clinic for children and young people. Fourteen specialist services will support young people aged 13-25.

  • Gamblers Anonymous – These are groups of people who get together and offer support to one another. There are meetings happening throughout the week all over the country and you can find a local one here: gamblers anonymous

  • Gamcare – Gamcare offer support over the phone and online one to one chat as well as group chats if the idea of attending in person is too daunting right now gamcare

  • Begambleaware – Begambleaware offer much the same service as Gamcare with the addition of a new gambling therapy app which claims to use proven CBT techniques to identify patterns in behaviour and offering counselling services www.begambleaware.org/confidential-help/gambling-therapy-app

There are number of practical things you can do such as using software blocking apps on smart phones, tablets and computers. These can involve a friend or family member setting up a password unknown to you to make it more effective; http://www.gamban.com/ www.netnanny.com/features/internet-filter  or www.gamblock.com  or www.betfilter.com

If you gamble more in shops than online, or you do both, then you can call and self-exclude yourself from shops in particular postcodes which is handy if there is a pattern to where and when you gamble. To self-exclude from more than one shop or a number of different companies in your area, call 0800 294 2060

Some people are not ready to be open about having a problem with gambling, which is fine, but I've found it helpful to let someone you trust support you.

If you are under the age of 25 we would love to hear what your experience of gambling is by completing our survey