A compulsive gambler who took out 13 bank loans and ended up behind bars after stealing more than £300,000 from work to feed his addiction has pleaded with other addicts to get help.
Matthew Kettell, aged 42, from north Sheffield, became so dangerously addicted to gambling he swiped funds from the remortgaging of his house, took from his children’s moneyboxes, and had six credit cards, running up more than £60,000 debts gambling £2,000 to £3,000 a day at his peak.
The father of two young children began his addiction on fruit machines, but spent £3,500 on a fixed-odds betting terminal in 20 minutes on one occasion, eventually losing his marriage and becoming suicidal before his workplace found out and he was handed a three-year prison sentence.
He said: “I had 13 bank loans, two debit cards, six credit cards and I was juggling all that as well as betting.
“Once I collected £3,540. I was going to round it down to £3,500, so I put £40 in a fixed odds betting terminal. Twenty 20 minutes later I had £1 left in my pocket because I had to get a pint of milk on my way home.
“Fixed odds terminals are highly dangerous. You don’t realise how much money you are putting in. It’s so addictive.”
Matthew began to steal money from work, taking cash wherever he could to feed his habit.
He said: “It was small amounts at first but it ended up with hundreds of thousands. I’m ashamed I stole money from work.
“I emptied my children’s moneyboxes. It’s disgusting. I’m ashamed of myself. I put the money back, but the fact I resorted to that is despicable to me.”
He lied to his then-wife and family and friends - which ultimately saw his marriage break down and landed him a three-year prison sentence.
He said: “I was fantastic at lying. But most addicts are. Sometimes it was bizarre and ridiculous.
“I would make a bet for £2,000 at the bookies, then fill out a separate bet for £10 and leave it on the side for my ex-wife to see.
“I found myself going into the shed saying I needed to get something, and I would place a bet in the shed.
“I virtually climbed into the boot of the car and phoned up and placed a bet. I didn’t see anything wrong in it. I had to get those bets on.
“Often I would delay myself going to work so I could wait for the postman in case there was something in there.
“We always had shopping in, and food on the table. I made sure we went on holiday every year. The rest I gambled.
“I spent some of the money from the house remortgage on gambling without my ex-wife knowing.
“I always thought, ‘I’m going to pay it back’. Always.
“When I got a big win I thought I was invincible. I just put more money in because I thought I had cracked it.
“If I had won the lottery I would have carried on gambling.
“You don’t live in the real world. You think, ‘I’m going to have a huge house, a villa, cars, I’m going to treat my family and friends.
“It’s just a load of rubbish.”
He spoke about how the addition gripped him, changing his personality, despite being in denial for so long about the scale of the problem.
Matthew added: “It also makes you a selfish person as well - stealing and being argumentative.
“It’s just hell. Any addiction is hell for yourself, and then there’s the impact on your family or friends.
“I kept it secret. I was a lone gambler. I looked after the finances and nobody knew about it until it all came to a head.”
Ultimately, Matthew’s addiction led him to suicidal thoughts.
“I didn’t ever think I was an addict. But I thought I was dying inside. I thought about suicide almost daily.
“I couldn’t bring myself to tell my ex-wife or friends.
“I just had an illness. I couldn’t help myself.”
He said more needs to be done to monitor gamblers’ activity, adding: “I staked a quarter of a million pounds in one year with one betting account. They gave me £500 credit at first, then raised it to £2,500 and never asked for a wage slip, proof of income, anything.
“I’m not saying it’s their fault. But if they had looked at my account they would have seen me betting on horses, greyhounds, golf, rugby league, rugby union, they would see ‘this guy has a problem’.”
Matthew has now turned his life around, getting a job from his prison placement, and praised the support of his ‘amazing’ partner, family and friends.
“I was still gambling the day I knew I was going to get found out at work,” he said.
“I had to tell my ex-wife, I had to tell my parents. My ex-wife was so shocked and upset.
“It was the hardest thing I have ever done. My family and friends were really supportive.
“You should never gamble more than you can afford to. As a compulsive gambler, I wouldn’t even buy a lottery ticket now. That one win might tempt me back in.
“Everyone who goes back goes back 10 times worse.
“But anyone can stop an addiction. You have to change your character. You have to change things like what you do or who you hang around with.
“It’s only 2.5 per cent of people that stop an addiction first time. You have to be completely prepared to change the way you live your life.”
He also praised the help he has received from Gamblers Anonymous, which he attends every week, and urged anyone going through similar problems to contact the group for help.
“I did this article because if one person reads it and gets help, that will do for me. If it helps one person’s family not go through the hell.”
New ‘world-leading code’ in a bid to promote responsible gambling
The Association of British Bookmakers wrote to Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore, outlining a new code for responsible gambling being put in place at most bookies across Britain from last month.
The body, which represents 80 per cent of the market, says the ‘world-leading code’ offers new ‘harm minimisation measures over and above those already in place in betting shops’.
It states customers are now able to set their own voluntary limits on the amount of time and money spent, with pop-up alerts when this amount is reached.
Alerts will also flash up after every 30 minutes or £250 spend on a machine, with an increased break in play, and gameplay suspended for 20 to 30 seconds while responsible gambling messages are shown.
It also said staff are encouraged to spend more time on the shop floor and will also receive the alerts, with increased staff training enabling them to recognise a ‘wider range of problem gambling indicators’.
The removal of cash machines from betting shops, as well as the ability for a customer to access information on their time and money spent on a machine, were also outlined.
The letter added it was committed to ‘Think 21’ policies and a ‘commitment to working with local authorities and community organisations’ to tackle local issues, while it will also create increased guidance on anti-money laundering and more prominent display of responsible gambling information, including helplines and website links.
It added: “We are pleased to be introducing this new raft of measures aimed at improving adult informed choice, building on the substantial existing regulations and voluntary measures which all betting shops already comply with.
“Through these new measures we are committed to providing a safe, enjoyable popular leisure experience.”
It also pointed out the gambling sector funds the Responsible Gambling Trust, investing £6 million a year in research and treatment of problem gambling.
About 45,000 people are employed in the gambling sector, it added, contributing £3.2m to the UK gross domestic product, paying £1bn in taxes and £58m in business rates per year.
The average customer, it said, placed £8 on a sports bet, while 74 per cent of gaming machine users play once a month or less, adding: “Those with the lowest income have the lowest prevalence of gambling and use fewer products.”
Campaigners call for tighter restrictions
Two-thirds of people think there are too many betting shops on the high street, with most people agreeing gambling machines fuel betting addictions, a new poll has revealed.
Half of those surveyed in a new poll also think bookies are deliberately placed in poorer areas.
The survey revealed 63 per cent think fixed-odds betting terminals encourage problem gambling, and 56 per cent want the maximum stake cut from £100 to £20.
The Government recently announced a tax increase on the terminals to 25 per cent duty, but campaigners are still pushing for tighter restrictions.
A review is being conducted by government and Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to announce details shortly.
Adrian Parkinson, of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, said: “This polling shows conclusively where people stand on the issue of casino machines in betting shops.
“Two-thirds of people agree with a stake reduction, which means Cameron has to start listening.
“If he doesn’t cut the stakes then he is completely out of tune with voters. As for the bookmakers, every single argument they have put forward has been trashed by this poll.
“Cameron needs to decide - does he believe the bookmakers, who say there are no problems with these machines, or is he going to listen to the electorate, who quite clearly say there’s a problem and it needs sorting?”