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‘I’m ashamed’: Finance boss stole £1 million to fuel online gambling addiction

PUBLISHED: 06:30 01 December 2018 | UPDATED: 10:41 02 December 2018

Steven Girling from Costessey stole £1m from his employer while he was addicted to online gambling. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Steven Girling from Costessey stole £1m from his employer while he was addicted to online gambling. Picture: Neil Didsbury

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A gambling addict who stole £1 million from his employer to feed his dependency speaks out today about the devastating impact of online gambling addiction.

The father blew the money on online slot machines. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphotoThe father blew the money on online slot machines. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Steve Girling, from Costessey, pleaded guilty at Norwich Crown Court on Monday to taking the £1m over three years from the company he worked for as chief finance officer.

From March 2014 to October 2017 he transferred cash from the firm’s accounts to his own - and says he blew it on online slot machines.

The father-of-two spent up to £18,000 a night and was rewarded with VIP treatment by the three betting firms he used.

READ MORE: ‘Too many lives have been destroyed’ - the dangers of online gambling

Mr Girling said the firms were always coming up with new online games he got addicted to. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphotoMr Girling said the firms were always coming up with new online games he got addicted to. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

They took him on all-expenses paid trips to watch horse racing in Dubai, Ascot and Cheltenham.

However, Mr Girling claims he is now clean for a year and a qualified life coach. He hopes to break the stigma of gambling addiction.

The 36-year-old will be jailed for the theft in January, but long term says he wants to educate people about the dangers of gambling and even open a mindfulness retreat in Norfolk.

“I am ashamed, but I want to use this negative part of my life to try and help others so they don’t have to suffer the pain I have put other people through,” he said.

He said that his problems started with stress at work, which led to him seeking an escape through online gambling.

He went to see his GP and moved jobs but that did not help.

“I turned to gambling because I liked the fact I could do it on my phone on my own and it was my way of shutting myself away from my everyday life and my worries,” he said.

“I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to stop.”

He has now reformed and wants to help others who have become addicted to gambling. Picture: Neil DidsburyHe has now reformed and wants to help others who have become addicted to gambling. Picture: Neil Didsbury

In March 2014 he had his first win and said he was then hooked.

“When you have that first win, the release of dopamine from your brain is very strong and you want to go back to have more of that so you carry on playing, trying to get back to that first hit but you never can.”

He initially funded his addiction with his own money but that soon ran out.

Afraid of his family finding out, he said he tried to cover his tracks by stealing from his employer.

The betting firms rewarded Mr Girling by paying for him to go to horse racing festivals. Photo: Nick ButcherThe betting firms rewarded Mr Girling by paying for him to go to horse racing festivals. Photo: Nick Butcher

“In the days after I first did it I was on edge,” he said. “Every phone call, every email I was expecting someone to say, ‘can you come and see me, we have found out’.”

But that call did not come.

“I would play £100 spins on slot machines and you can spin every few seconds,” he said.

“One evening I lost £18,000. There are new products coming out all the time and it was just a spiral for me.

As a VIP member of the online casinos, he was taken to horse race meetings in the UK and Dubai. Photo: Nick ButcherAs a VIP member of the online casinos, he was taken to horse race meetings in the UK and Dubai. Photo: Nick Butcher

“I couldn’t see it but I was using gambling as a way to self medicate to relieve other problems.”

He resigned from his job in October 2017 and confessed to his wife in December.

Mr Girling’s company then found out about the theft and he provided his bank statements as evidence.

He said he had no idea how much money he had taken, but when he finally went through his statements to reveal the £1m figure he threw up.

Mr Girling said he then sold his car and used savings to pay back over £100,000.

But he knows the losses to his family are likely to be even greater.

He bought a house during the time he was stealing and will have to sell it to pay back more money.

And on February 21st this year he had a knock on the door.

“My wife came back from dropping the kids at school to find police officers and sniffer dogs in the house,” he said.

“They were searching for cash but there was none. It had all gone on gambling.”

He said he told the police everything and handed them evidence. He was then released under investigation.

“I used that time to recover,” Mr Girling said. “I read lots of books on addiction and it allowed me to get my life back.”

He was charged in October and pleaded guilty this week.

He is expecting to go to prison when he is sentenced next year.

“I have never committed a crime so I don’t know what awaits but I fully accept I have done wrong,” he said.

But he added: “I believe I can still have better future.”

With the support of his wife Rashael, children Izzy, 13, and Henry, nine, as well as courses provided by national help centre GamCare he has recovered.

Mr Girling has also taken part in panels run by GamCare.

•‘Industry needs reform’

Mr Girling said he took full responsibility for his actions but believes the industry can do more to stop addiction.

He has spoken to the Gambling Commission, which licenses operators, and worked with GamCare, which helps addicts recover.

He has also contacted operators about reforms he wants to see.

Mr Girling raised concerns about the way the firms he used rewarded him for spending huge sums which he could not afford by making him a VIP member.

He wants operators to introduce affordability checks, particularly when large amounts are at stake.

One evening he transferred more money into his online gambling account than he earns in a year.

“It was clear from my patterns of play I was addicted,” he said.

He also wants firms to ban the use of credit cards for online gambling and for banks to introduce buttons on online accounts to stop addicts spending.

•Addiction is rising

The latest figures from national helpline GamCare show the number of people seeking help with gambling addictions is increasing steadily every year.

Last year they answered almost 30,000 calls from people needing help.

Almost 80pc of those calls were from gamblers while 20pc were from family members or friends affected by someone else’s addiction.

Almost 90pc of gamblers were men and the biggest age group affected were 26 to 35 year olds.

“With the expansion of gambling opportunities and the introduction of new technologies, many people who may not have traditionally gambled are now taking part,” GamCare said.

The Gambling Commission, meanwhile, which regulates the industry, is taking action against online casinos.

On Thursday it fined three firms a total of £14m for not putting safeguards in place against money laundering and to keep consumers safe.

•For help with a gambling addiction contact the National Gambling HelpLine on 0808 8020 133 or visit gamcare.org.uk

•Follow the latest from our investigations unit on Facebook

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