A recovering gambling addict is calling for high-stakes betting machines to be banned from bookies after racking up debts of more than £20,000.
Michael Goldfinch squandered up to £1,000 a time while playing on the fixed-odds betting terminals, which allow people to wager £100 every 20 seconds.
At the height of his addiction, he was visiting bookmakers at least five times a week, spending all his wages and maxing out credit cards to fund his habit.
Michael Goldfinch lost £20,000 on fixed odd betting machines
The 46-year-old says: “I mainly played on the roulette machines. I started about eight or nine years ago and would only play if there was a free promotion. Somehow, I ended up £20,000 in debt.
“I’d go into the William Hill on Herne Bay High Street with £1,000 on the Saturday, then another £1,000 on the Sunday. I only came out once having won £1,000.
“I used to go in most afternoons, at least five days a week, for a whole year. Then I got behind with credit card payments. Once you start losing, you start chasing your money.
“You try to win it back, but it’s always going to go in the bookies’ favour. I never actually bet the maximum stake of £100, but still ended up losing so much.
The Hot Wax game on a fixed odds betting terminal
“I think the machines should be banned altogether. They’re too easy to put money into, and the amount of people who get into debt on them is worrying.
“There’s limits on the amount they’ll pay out, but not the amount you can put in. And there’s cash machines in the bookies to stop you from leaving. All they’re concerned about is keeping you betting.”
Mr Goldfinch, who lives in Stanley Gardens in Herne Bay, reached a turning point when he realised he had ploughed all his money into gambling, leaving nothing for Christmas.
He continues: “I was miserable and I stopped opening up to people. I was paying out more money than was coming in. It got to a point when I knew I had to do something about it.
“I started to tell family and friends about my problem. They were shocked, but they helped me out. Like any addiction, it comes down to willpower.”
The fixed odds machines are very different from the old-fashioned pub fruit machine. Library picture
Mr Goldfinch, who works as a supervisor at Hellyar Plastics in Whitstable, tried to get on top of his problem by seeking the help of a debt management company.
But he suffered a further blow when he was charged £400 plus interest for their services, plunging him further into financial trouble.
He finally managed to get the support he needed through the government’s Pay Plan scheme, but the effects of his habit are ongoing.
“I think the machines should be banned altogether. They’re too easy to put money into, and the amount of people who get into debt on them is worrying" - Michael Goldfinch
He adds: “They helped me get on top of things. It took five years, but I managed to clear my debt last October.
“You don’t realise the lasting effect it will have when you’re gambling. It’s going to take some time to sort out my credit rating.
“In a seaside town like Herne Bay where unemployment is fairly high, people might think it’s easy to get a win. It’s a slippery slope.”
The Association of British Bookmakers says the industry is committed to ensuring its customers gamble responsibly.
Spokesman Peter Craske says: “Betting shops have been trading on the high street for over 50 years, and we now serve eight million customers and employ 40,000 people across the UK.
“65% of the population gamble in one form or another, so this is a popular pastime.
“Gaming machines themselves are not new products - they are ones that have been played in our shops for over a decade and are popular with our customers.”
“Shop staff are trained to spot someone getting into trouble and ultimately a customer can self-exclude themselves from the shop.
“We are committed to making this system work better and will be rolling out new measures to do this in the coming months.”
To access help visit www.gambleaware.co.uk or call the free national gambling helpline on 0808 8020 133.