At Justyn Rees Larcombe's darkest hour he was selling treasured possessions to pay for a gambling habit that left him in £750,000 worth of debt, but by the grace of God his life was turned around. He explains why the Government's decision this week to ban gambling on credit cards is good news. The decision was announced just days before the NHS's head of mental health services demanded urgent action from five major gambling companies
When I heard the decision had been taken to ban the use of credit cards for gambling transactions I was delighted. As someone who nearly lost everything because of a gambling addiction, this is a step in the right direction.
It is the debt associated with gambling that causes shame and relationship problems within families. According to the Gambling Commission (the UK Gambling Regulator), 22 per cent of those who use credit cards to gamble are problem gamblers. The figures also show that one in ten suicides is gambling related and problem gamblers are at a 15 times greater risk of taking their own lives. It’s the problems associated with debt that can be the major factor.
A gamble placed with credit not only generates the opportunity for loss, but also for debt. This in turn worsens the damage caused and can encourage problem gamblers to chase their losses with larger and riskier bets, compounding the risk further. Using credit cards can also be a way for gamblers who are trying to stop, to hide their habit from a family member. Sadly, I know all too well what problem gambling can lead to.
It was November, so of course the days were short, but I remember those last weeks as a dark time in my life. I was living off a sack of mouldy potatoes, I couldn’t afford to heat my home, on which I owed five months’ rent. A home I had once shared with my wife Emma and two lovely young children. I was selling possessions to feed my habit, including the Sword of Honour I had been awarded for graduating top of my officer training at Sandhurst.
The events that led to that ‘dark time’ had begun three years before. Our eldest son, Matthew, had been diagnosed with a form of cerebral palsy that affected his right side. He had a major epileptic fit at eleven months old and almost died in my arms. I kept him alive for 40 minutes, by breathing for him, while we waited for the ambulance. I didn’t handle it very well. I had served in the army for ten years and it brought back memories of trauma from my final tour of duty. I began to gamble online, keeping it all a secret from my wife. I confess it was a form of escape, an escape which became a very expensive one.
I was able to hide it because we had separate bank accounts, separate credit cards and I had a good job working in finance in the City. By the time she found out, we had sold our house and I had not only used up the deposit, but I was so heavily in debt, I wouldn’t get a mortgage. And I had lost my job. I had used my corporate card to run up gambling debts. Although she initially stood by me, I was spiralling and she was right to leave.
‘I began to attend church again’
Having reached rock-bottom that November day, I decided enough was enough. About to be evicted and made homeless, I made the decision to seek help. I had pushed God away in my life, but now, in desperation, I went back to him and humbly confessed everything. I felt instinctively that he still loved me and would forgive me, which gave me hope. I began to attend church again, to read my Bible.
Initially I sought advice about my debts. I went to a debt advice charity at my church and they wrote to my creditors. I found work again and slowly the debt was repaid. Every day that went by something got better. I began to see some light. Emma and the boys came back, work improved and I began to share my story to give others hope.
One of the other commitments announced this week, is that the Government is forcing all the online gambling operators to join GamStop, a scheme allowing gamblers to press one button and opt out of all gambling for a period of time – or permanently. It is a brilliant tool to help manage gambling that is becoming a problem.
One thing I always make clear. If it is a problem for you or someone you know, talk about it. Don’t leave it until it’s too late.