At a time when an influential group of MPs has called on the Premier League and other sporting governing bodies to reduce the volume of gambling adverts in stadiums, a former gambling addict has reflected on how easy it is to be lured into gambling.
Chris Kershaw has held his gambling habit at arm's length for over 17 years with the help of a support group – but at one stage it was so bad that it led him to attempt to take his own life.
The cross-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee released its report yersterday, recommending a new gambling sponsorship code of conduct for sports should include provision to reduce adverts at football stadia and ensure more space is dedicated to safer gambling messaging.
Chris, 47, said: “It's good sponsorship will disappear from the front of football shirts in the next few years, but at the same time disheartening to read reports that nearly 7,000 gambling messages could be seen during just six matches on the opening weekend of the season.
"These adverts are on huge LED screens and proliferate TV coverage, making it almost impossible not to see them. This not only has the potential to cause harm, but is also disproportionate to all other forms of advertising that exist around football."
Chris was first drawn to the flashing lights of the fruit machines when he used to play snooker in working men’s clubs with his uncle in Lancashire, where he grew up.
His habit spiralled at university and when online gambling meant he didn’t have to stop when the bookies closed, he found himself betting on any obscure sport that meant he could gamble 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“When I started work, I had time, opportunity and money and my gambling habit grew. I started borrowing a lot of money, had multiple loans and overdrafts,” he said.
“On February 5, 2006, I took an overdose. Thankfully I survived and realised I wanted to live so went online to look for help. Just 48 hours later I was at my first support meeting in Derby.”
Chris hopes that the proliferation of gambling adverts around football will start to wane, adding: “If you look at snooker in the 1980s, it was full of smoking adverts but that stopped. Football used to be sponsored by alcohol companies, but that has faded. I hope gambling will go the same way but it’s the damage that is done in the meantime that is the worry.
“All party politicians need to be around the table to tackle this as a starting point with the football clubs, gambling companies – it’s about taking joint responsibility. The proliferation of the adverts is the problem. The report is a good start but I hope it goes further.”
Chris managed to turn his life around with the help of a support group and is vocal in his support for the East Midlands Gambling Harms Service, saying it will help people lead better, more fulfilling lives.
The service, which is based in Derby and is run by Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, offers free support specialist therapies, treatment and recovery to those affected by gambling addiction and gambling problems in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and Rutland.
The service includes clinical psychologists, therapists, mental health practitioners and psychiatrists as well as experts-by-experience – people who have recovered from a gambling addiction themselves.
Most support will be provided through virtual treatment programmes and group workshops. Further support and advice will be available to family members and carers, with the support of other agencies to help with problems such as mental health, debt management and housing.
The service is accepting referrals and individuals who are concerned about their gambling can either self-refer ask a health worker to make a professional referral for them.