Britain's gambling problem: Recovering addicts say betting culture must change

Watch a full report from ITV News Anglia's Rob Setchell.

A father from Norwich who stole a million pounds from his employer to fund an online gambling habit says action must be taken to tackle Britain's betting culture.

Steve Girling has been released from prison on licence after serving two years for theft. The former finance director was jailed in 2019 after admitting diverting money from company accounts into his own.

He lied and cheated to feed a gambling habit which cost him thousands of pounds a night, relationships with his friends and, ultimately, his liberty. His family's home was sold to pay back some of his debts.

"I just neglected everyone and everything in my life," he said. "My actions have caused my wife and children to nearly become homeless.

"I can't change that as much as I would love to. All I can do is accept that and try and be the best person I can be, to try and move forward."

Steve Girling and his wife Rashael. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Steve's wife Rashael stood by him. Together, they now want to help other families devastated by gambling - founding a community interest company to support addicts and call for greater awareness and tighter restrictions.

"The adverts are just everywhere," said Rashael. "Even the kids, they understand all about it now. They don't like it. Henry (Steve's son) still says: 'Dad, you're not looking at that gambling advert are you?'"The Government is currently reviewing the Gambling Act - looking at advertising, stake limits, affordability checks and whether restrictions need to be tightened.

Campaigners fear Covid lockdowns have sparked a dangerous rise in online gambling.

  • ITV News Anglia's Jonathan Wills spoke to Anna Hemmings, the Chief Executive of Gamcare which supports people affected by problem gambling.

At the weekend, hundreds took part in the latest 'Big Step' walk calling for an end to gambling sponsorship in football.

James Grimes, from Downham Market, was among them. He lost tens of thousands of pounds during a 13 year addiction, which saw bookmakers class him as a VIP and send him free football tickets.

"I see it as a form of grooming to be honest," he said. "They knew I had a problem, they had the data there to prevent me suffering any more harm but they used that data to further their profits.

"I dread to think for people out there who're struggling with gambling how much it's been exacerbated by the current situation."

It's thought more than a million people in the UK could have a gambling problem, prompting high profile safety campaigns.

The betting industry says there has been big investment in campaigns to promote safer gambling. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Steve says they're not enough and that his time in prison proved there is a long way to go before problem gambling is treated as seriously as other addictions.

"It was March time, when the Grand National was on," he said. "A senior member of staff was going around the prison offering a sweepstake.

"Of course a lot of the lads didn't think anything of it and were happy to take part but there are some individuals who had suffered from gambling. That could be another trigger and cause another relapse.

"You wouldn't go round offering a beer to individuals on the wing that's for sure, so why should you be promoting a form of gambling?"

The Betting and Gaming Council, which represents the industry, said gambling was safely enjoyed by millions of people and had provided "economic support to football throughout the pandemic, as well as other sports such as horseracing, snooker, darts and rugby league."

A spokesman said: "Betting advertising and sponsorship must comply with strict guidelines and safer gambling messaging is regularly and prominently displayed.

"It also enables TV channels to broadcast more live action than would otherwise be possible, and plays a vital role in differentiating legally licensed operators from those in the unregulated and illegal black market."

The council said progress had been made with the "whistle to whistle" ban on advertising reducing the number of TV betting commercials viewed by children during live sports before the watershed by 97%.

"It should also be noted that betting operators' logos cannot be used on children's clothing - including replica football kits."

For help and advice on gambling addiction:

  • Call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133

  • Visit the Be Gamble Aware website.

  • Visit the GamCare website.