Many of us enjoy the occasional ‘flutter’ on the Grand National or St Leger and that may be the only time we see a betting shop during the year.
But for some Doncaster people, the thrill of risking money in the hope that Lady Luck will bring much more back in return can soon turn into an addiction as powerful as any illegal drug.
It can quickly escalate into compulsive gambling, harm health and relationships and potentially spiral into serious financial despair.
As a GP I come across this problem as it can have a massive emotional impact on those who are near and dear to us as they are left wondering what to do.
That’s what happened to Doncaster couple Anne and Keith Evans after their lives were touched by problem gambling.
They met and later married after Anne’s 40-year-old son, Alan, took his own life after racking up huge gambling debts and not being able to see a way out. He had been gambling since his teenage years in the 1980s, with the problem intensifying over the following 25 years as the addiction gradually consumed his life. At the time of his death, Alan was using multiple credit cards to try and manage his growing debt.
He died in 2010, leaving two young daughters. Anne was devastated, reeling like she had been hit with a sledgehammer and wanting to know what – if anything - she could have done to prevent it.
She said such experiences either make or break you and was determined to look for a positive initiative to channel her energy into. Anne was concerned at the lack of information about problem gambling, which at the time was presented more as bad behaviour than an addiction.
She met Doncaster MP Rosie Winterton to find out what the national politicians were doing about the problem. By now she had met Keith – a retired senior manager at Scawthorpe’s former John Carr factory and the couple started talking to the bosses of the country’s major betting organisations. They successfully encouraged them to introduce responsible gambling strategies to help protect those at risk of becoming addicted.
They became trustees of the Young Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM), a national charity formed by former gambling addict Lee Willows to inform, educate and safeguard young people against problematic gambling and social gaming.
YGAM is steadily building up a network of regional contacts who go into schools and other community settings to spread the word and deliver nationally accredited gambling related harm prevention training – successfully filling the public information gap that Anne identified after Alan’s tragic death.
* Addictions come in many forms, which are acknowledged by Doncaster’s Health and Wellbeing Board. If you need help for problem gambling – or know someone who might – please ring the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133. Find out more about YGAM by visiting Young Gamblers Education Trust