Gambler bans himself from every betting shop in Norwich
A gambling addict has banned himself from every betting shop in Norwich and East Anglia, after he lost �100,000 in four years on the controversial fixed odds betting terminals.
The highly addictive machines which were introduced into betting shops in 2001 have been dubbed the 'crack cocaine' of gambling and combine the rapid speed of play of a fruit machine with the higher prizes of roulette. Players are allowed to bet �100 in multiples of �10 and people can lose a lot of money very quickly. Betting shops are allowed up to four machines.
David Armstrong, 65, said his addiction cost him his partner and he had amassed huge debts that he paid off by raising money on the equity of his house.
He has written to his MP, Simon Wright, about his concerns, which are being looked into by John Penrose MP, who has responsibility for gambling issues at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Mr Wright replied to Mr Armstrong in a letter that he was 'very concerned' to read of his experience of these machines.
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The Norwich South MP added: 'I know that others have raised concerns about their highly addictive nature.'
Mr Armstrong, who lives in York Street in Norwich's Golden Triangle, wants the government to further regulate the use of the fixed odds betting terminals.
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The retired car salesman said: 'My addiction to these machines has taken all my money and I am now receiving counselling from mental health services in Norfolk.
'It has ruined my life, but I would like to warn vulnerable people, especially youngsters, that what starts off as a little fun can easily turn into an out of control monster.
'These machines are everywhere around Norwich and the public needs to be warned of the potential dangers.'
Mr Armstrong said he had never gambled until four years ago when he went into a bookmakers in Anglia Square in Norwich.
He said: 'A man asked me if I would like a free go on the roulette with a prize for the highest score. Seeing no harm, I accepted.
'During the next year I started to spend an hour every evening on these machines and soon became addicted. 'Little did I know that these machines have been called highly addictive by experts and the crack cocaine of gambling.
'During the next few years the craving spiralled totally out of control. What had started as a bit of fun turned into a living hell.
'I tried counselling, hypnosis and finally self-excluded myself from all Norwich betting shops.
'But I would still travel to other towns in East Anglia to play, so I finally had to ban myself from all betting shops in the region.
'But the self-exclusions are only partly successful as people working in betting shops still let me in, if they don't know me.'
Mr Armstrong's concerns have been backed by the Salvation Army which recently gave evidence to a government committee looking into problem gambling.
The Salvation Army's public affairs officer Gareth Wallace said: 'We are incredibly concerned about the proliferation of highly addictive fixed odds betting terminals in high streets across the country, which encourage vulnerable gamblers to lose their money in half the time.
'These machines are now so prevalent in high street betting shops, they present a real problem for people with gambling addictions and their families.
'We call on the government to introduce tougher licensing of these machines, to give local authorities the power to control the number of machines in the high street and to see restrictions rather than further liberalisation of such addictive forms of gambling.'
A betting review in the Republic of Ireland ruled that the machines should not be introduced into Irish betting shops.
Graham Sharpe, media relations director for William Hill bookmakers, said it was legally entitled to have the machines in its shops.
He said: 'We are happy to help people if they want to self-exclude themselves from our shops, but part of the deal is that it's their responsibility to stick to it.
'We have 2350 betting shops across the country, and cannot be expected to put mug shots up at every shop to say that someone has self-excluded.
'And we cannot ask everyone who comes into our shops whether they have self-excluded themselves or not. 'Obviously, when a member of staff recognises someone who has self-excluded themselves, then we would approach them, and ask if they had had a change of heart regards being excluded.'
Mr Armstrong also received a letter from Coral bookmakers, which said that it considered 'social responsibility of utmost importance'.
He was urged to contact GamCare, the national association for gambling care, educational resources and training, which offers free trained counselling support, information and advice. Its contact details are www.gamcare.org.uk or 0845 6000 133.
Have you had a life-changing experience? Call reporter David Bale on 01603 772427 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.