‘I saw gambling as the answer to my problem rather than the cause’

LONG, HARD ROAD:  Ian, a compulsive gambler Photo: Neil Cross
LONG, HARD ROAD: Ian, a compulsive gambler Photo: Neil Cross
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On day four of our investigation into gambling, Sarah Carter speaks to Ian, who is working to rebuild his life after hitting rock bottom.

With a lunch of egg and chips and a vanilla slice, student Ian would spend his days poring over the horse racing pages in his favourite cafe.

Read more from our investigation into gambling here:

‘I think about gambling every minute of every day’

Preston’s £95m gambling machine addiction

‘Gambling has cost me partners, jobs and my home’

He would then place bets in the bookmakers nearby until closing time, followed by an evening playing cards in his halls of residence.

Fast forward three decades, and the 54-year-old is rebuilding his life after a failed suicide attempt.

The compulsive gambler has battled his addiction all his adult life, after beginning playing cards for small stakes while at Hutton Grammar School.

The former taxi driver from Preston has lost jobs, relationships and uncountable amounts of money, after becoming hooked on gambling.

Ian (who asked us not to use his full name) lied to his family and loved ones, was arrested for stealing, and even lost his home as the habit took its vicious grip on him.

Ian, who now lives in New Hall Lane in Preston, says he hadn’t realised he had been a compulsive gambler at a young age, but recognises it, looking back.

He remembers: “I was lying to my parents and I was shoplifting in order to tell them I had spent my money on singles and books, when really I had stolen them and spent the money gambling.”

Ian progressed from high school to Hull University to study history and politics after struggling to find a job, but admits he rarely attended classes.

He quickly fell into a routine of waking up about 11am, going to the same cafe to read the racing pages and then going to the bookmakers until about 5pm or 6pm, before playing cards later in the evening.

He recalls: “In the second term, my grant was a bit late arriving and I found myself very short of money, and I got caught shoplifting some food.

“That led to my first court appearance – to the best of my recollection, I got a £50 fine.

“I didn’t tell anybody this had happened and I was away from home, so it didn’t really matter.”

Ian’s debts began to build up out of control and he started to realise he had a problem, but says: “I still saw gambling as the answer to my problem rather than being the cause of my problem.”

Aside from the constant lies and debt of gambling, Ian managed to find work, moving in with a family in Crosby while training to be a supermarket manager. But he recalls: “Inevitably, the gambling was eventually getting worse and I was taking more time off work, and telling more and more lies to cover up what I was doing.”

He remembers one particular lie he told, and says: “It was mid-winter, fairly cold, the battery of the car had gone a bit flat so I took the battery out of the car to charge it up in the garage and dropped it on my foot.

“So I took a knife to the end of my trainers and wrapped a bandage around my toe to make it convincing.”
Ian’s addiction meant he eventually almost stopped going to work.

He still left the house every morning and returned in the evenings, but would spend his days shoplifting books and records to sell.

He was eventually caught and charged and, despite him trying to lie to his landlady, the police had already been to the house.

Ian stayed with her for a little longer, financed by the “bank of mum and dad”, but eventually had to return to Preston after his landlady “reached breaking point”.

She wrote to him warning that if he was not forthcoming with the money he owed to her, she would tell his parents everything and, he admits: “There was a lot I was still keeping from them.”

He remembers: “I was worried about that, and the thing that seemed the most logical to me was to go out shoplifting again, try to get my hands on as much money as I could and, through gambling, turn that money into a large enough amount of money to pay off what I owed to my landlady.”

But Ian was caught again – by a security guard who recognised him from stealing elsewhere – and was arrested for shoplifting for the third time.

His addiction continued, but he managed to stop gambling for about two years in the ‘80s, after going to Gamblers Anonymous in Preston.

He returned to work in the supermarket but, following the death of his father, began running the village newsagents his parents had previously run together.

But there he became more and more tempted to have a bet.

Following the death of his father, and also his grandfather and another relative, Ian was left an inheritance of about £20,000.

He remembers: “I became more and more weak, and I decided I was going to have a bet on this particular horse on this particular race and I placed the biggest bet of my life – £200 in 1986.

“I won, and I think it worked out at £1,000, an £800 profit.

“I was feeling a bit smug and a bit self-satisfied and decided to carry on with my gambling.

“It’s those wins that keep you going, and the knowledge there are people out there who make a living from it.

“And the conviction that, sooner or later, I would learn from my mistakes and be able to make a living from it myself.

“The only thing that actually happened was, over a period of a year, the £20,000 went.”

Ian flitted between jobs and homes, not returning to Gamblers Anonymous until 1997.

He managed to secure work taxi driving, which facilitated his gambling, but hasn’t worked since he had to stop in 2010, after being caught driving minibuses he wasn’t entitled to drive.

A combination of the lack of work and rent arrears meant he was unable to pay his landlord, leading him to move back in with his mother before becoming homeless, in the hopes of getting help to find somewhere to live.

He recalls: “I slept in a car park down at the bottom of Cannon Street for a couple of weeks.”

The Foxton Centre helped Ian to secure the home he now has in New Hall Lane, but he has suffered from anxiety and depression since then.

He says: “I was becoming more and more socially isolated and I was gambling in the bookies. Eventually, I decided there was no point in carrying on being alive, so I took an overdose hoping to end my life, but it didn’t happen.

“That was in May of this year.

“I was admitted to A&E in Preston, then sent to a mental health assessment unit in Blackpool, then a mental health care unit in Ormskirk.”

But Ian says his mind set has now changed “completely”.

He says: “I no longer feel suicidal, I’m slightly more optimistic about the future, and no longer have an inclination to place a bet.

“For the first time in as long as I can remember, horse racing is no longer interesting me.”

Ian’s last bet was in May this year, just before the suicide attempt.

He says: “One of the things I wanted to do was pay an electricity bill before I took my life.

“I was gambling, but once I got the money to pay this bill, that was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do before I took an overdose to end it all.

“I got rid of so many of my possessions as well, because I wasn’t expecting to come back.”