The first time Michael* gambled he was 11 years old. In the corner of a cafe near his home in north London, sat a fruit machine. Michael headed there one day with a school friend, and put 30p in the slot – the change from his lunch money. He won five pounds, bought himself an ice cream to celebrate, and began returning every week.
“I never told my parents,” the 34-year-old says, thinking back to the beginnings of an addiction that went on to last almost two decades. Michael has been in rehabilitation for his gambling habit for nearly five years. Now he is reflective about how he got to a stage where he was staking his salary; occasionally he might win as much as £70,000, but in total he lost more than £500,000.
[READ: How To Recognise Your Gambling Might Be A Problem]
Gambling is now more difficult than ever to avoid, he says. You can place bets on apps at the touch of a button, move money digitally, and are constantly bombarded with adverts on your TV, mobile phone and computer. “They say when the fun stops, stop. That was like telling me to breathe less. I needed to gamble the same way I need to breathe,” he explains.
Like others, Michael argues that there should be more controls on how people gamble. He approves of the Labour party’s recent call to ban gambling adverts during live sporting events, and the party’s proposal to prevent people placing bets using credit cards. Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson last month told the BBC that a “digital revolution” has allowed the gambling industry to expand offerings without legislation curbing its growing powers.
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Some mobile banking apps are also trying to help those struggling with gambling by offering customers a way of blocking gambling transactions from their accounts. One such bank, Monzo, now allows customers to sign up…