A recovering gambling addict who says his addiction ruined his life is calling for a ban on advertising for online betting companies.
James Grimes told Sky News he first started gambling at the age of 16 with a £5 bet on a football match.
From there he says he lost 12 years of his life to a crippling addiction to gambling, which he says cost him “everything”.
He said: “I was a normal young lad then gambling took my life from me. It caused anxiety and depression and turned me into a shell of a man.”
Mr Grimes believes he became addicted to betting because of the proliferation of online gambling in 2007.
He said that as a child gambling was something that he was “scared of” but then, when he was in his late teens, it became “glamourised” by his idols in football and that adverts for betting were “everywhere”.
“I was addicted to the whole idea of online gambling which took over my life,” he said. “The only people that knew how much I was gambling were the gambling companies and me.
“It had a huge impact. It destroyed pretty much every area of my life. [It] ruined relationships and my career and at no point did the gambling company ask me if I could afford it and that’s why I feel strongly about needing change.”
“The current business model is to make as much money as possible from people like me with gambling problems,” he added.
Mr Grimes claims gambling companies are “incentivising an illness” and is calling for “better public health messaging and an end to gambling advertising and sponsorship” alongside much better regulation.
He added: “My biggest regret is giving 12 years of my life to an industry that didn’t care about me and just wanted to profit from my addiction and misery. I don’t regret the money, I regret the time.
“I’m determined to make sure no person in this country experiences what I did.
“The trigger for me to get help was I had no choice. I didn’t want to be here anymore. I gave control of my money to my mum.
“At that moment I thought it was all my fault. I will never take full responsibility for my addiction. I take responsibility for my recovery, but I was sold an addictive product as a child.”
It comes as William Hill was hit with a record £19.2m fine by the UK gambling regulator.
Three gambling businesses owned by the company will pay the sum for “widespread and alarming” social responsibility and anti-money laundering failures, the Gambling Commission said.
The entities who will pay the fines will be WHG (International) Limited, which runs williamhill.com and will pay £12.5m; Mr Green Limited, which runs mrgreen.com, which will pay £3.7m; and William Hill Organisation Limited, which operates 1,344 gambling premises across Britain and will pay £3m.
Latest figures show parent company 888 reported £1.85bn in revenue for the year up to the end of December 2022, while company profits for the year will be published in April.
It’s not the first time the company has faced fines. In 2018 a £6.2m fine was issued by the regulator for similar issues: systemic social responsibility and money laundering failures.
Failures identified by the regulator in the latest fine included allowing a customer to open a new account and spend £23,000 in 20 minutes, all without any checks.
Another social responsibility failure identified was failing to conduct any checks and allowing a different customer to open an account and spend £18,000 in 24 hours.
A third customer was able to spend £32,500 over two days, also without any checks.
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Due to “ineffective controls” 331 customers were able to gamble with WHG (International) Limited despite having self-excluded themselves with Mr Green.
Anti-money laundering failures allowed customers to deposit large sums without appropriate checks. Sums deposited were as high as £70,134, which one customer spent and lost in a month.
Another lost £38,000 in five weeks while a third lost £36,000 in four days.
A licence suspension was considered, the Gambling Commission chief executive said.
“When we launched this investigation the failings we uncovered were so widespread and alarming serious consideration was given to licence suspension,” Andrew Rhodes said.
“However, because the operator immediately recognised their failings and worked with us to swiftly implement improvements, we instead opted for the largest enforcement payment in our history.”
A spokesperson for William Hill parent company 888 said: “The settlement relates to the period when William Hill was under the previous ownership and management.
“After William Hill was acquired, the company quickly addressed the identified issues with the implementation of a rigorous action plan.”
The company was purchased by 888 from Caesar’s Entertainment in July 2022.
“The entire group shares the [Gambling Commission’s] commitment to improve compliance standards across the industry and we will continue to work collaboratively with the regulator and other stakeholders to achieve this,” the spokesperson added.
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