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Recovering gambling addict speaks out in campaign to tackle bookies’ betting games

Owen Baily

Owen Baily

For Owen Baily, gambling was an exciting escapist adventure which offered him fast cash and a road to riches.

But it soon became a crippling addiction which saw him spend much of the last decade living on the streets and battling alcohol abuse.

“At my lowest point I was resorting to looking in phone boxes, trying to get enough money together for a tin of baked beans and some bread so I had something to eat,” Owen admits openly.

“With gambling, your money ebbs and flows. Sometimes I was stable and other times I had nothing.

“But I would only really feel comfortable when I was gambling.

“It made me neglect my rent and food, I was destructive and neglectful. It brought me to my knees.”

Owen got his first tastes of gambling while growing up in Boston, and then Sibsey, seeing it as a chance to better himself and win enough cash to live the lifestyle he desired.

“We didn’t have a lot of money when I was young,” he said.

“I saw gambling as the chance to make lots of money quickly and to get the money to buy the things I always wanted.”

Eye-opening adverts for books on ‘how to beat the fruit machines’ in the back of magazines, and playing the two-penny shuffle games on days out in Skegness first switched him onto the ways of gaining money for nothing.

But it wasn’t until he turned 18 and began visiting the arcades and bookies in Boston that Owen started taking gambling seriously.

When family circumstances saw him move to Leamington, Owen’s quest for the high life became magnified when he discovered casinos.

He won big and he lost big, once leaving with £5,000 in his pocket and, on another occasion, seeing £2,000 slip through his grasp in one sitting.

And as the big wins were celebrated and the heavy losses comiserated, Owen found himself turning more to drink to emphasise those highs and mask the lows.

But his life took its greatest turn for the worse when he discovered ‘FOBT machines’.

The Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, to give them their full names, are essentially touch-screen games – such as roulette and virtual horse racing – which you can play on machines in a bookmaker’s shop.

“From my personal experience I find them very addictive,” Owen added.

“Roulette itself is a hard form of gambling. Before the FOBT machines, it was only available in casinos.

“You have to get suited and booted, travel to the casino and also register at the casino. They used to be almost inaccessible. It’s the total opposite now.

“The problem is that you can put money into the machine every 20 seconds.”

Indeed, it is widely recognised that punters can wager up to £100 every 20 seconds on these machines, meaning huge amounts of cash can be lost within minutes.

It was this addiction to the brightly lit and easily accessible machines you see in the bookies in every town that saw Owen become trapped in a vicious downwards spiral.

For a 10-year period, Owen, 31, spent around 90 per cent of his money on gambling.

In doing so, he found himself swiftly flitting between rented accommodation, sleeping rough and hostels, depending on whether the chips were down or not.

As he drifted through life he also drifted across the country, laying his head in Leamington, Canterbury and then on to Oxford.

He explained: “The FOBTs brought the casinos to the high street and made it very accessible.

“The machines give you an illusion of control, whereas casinos can often be busy and you don’t always get the time and space to do what you want at the table.

“In the early days I had a few wins. I could take £10 into the bookies and come out with £500 or £700 in my pocket.

“But whatever I won would end up going back into the machines. I never really won.”

After finally deciding enough was enough, he began seeking help. And here’s where, fortunately, Owen’s story took a turn for the better.

After stays at a residential rehab in Oxford and work with a gambling clinic in London, Owen believes he is now in control of his urges.

Like most addictions, there is often a sense of denial surrounding those trapped in a downward spiral.

But after spending almost a year without placing a bet or having a drink, Owen is ready to share his story.

And the reason he wants to highlight the horrors of frittering away what he coyly describes as thousands of pounds, is because he is a man on a mission.

Instead of channeling his energies on destructive passtimes, he is now fighting to raise awareness of the dangers he believes these machines hold – helping a campaign that wants to limit the amounts that can be gambled on FOBTs and ultimately ban them,

Owen hopes the errors which have plagued his life throughout his 20s can act as a deterrent to the many people who could find themselves following the path he began taking as a youngster in Boston.

“The demographic of people who use these machines are often young people on benefits,” he continued.

“And you can quite quickly lose all your dole money on them - they’re very seductive.

“At first I felt they offered me hope, but really they destroyed me.”

And does Owen - who currently lives and works in Oxford - see himself ever slipping back into his old life?

“I never want to go back to that,” he said firmly.

“The buzz I get from living my life now is far greater than the buzz I ever got from gambling.”

Follow Owen on Twitter at @galiberation or learn more about how to combat gambling addiction by visiting www.stopthefobts.org

 

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