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Paul Merson: ‘I wouldn’t wish gambling addiction on anyone’

11 October 2021

Former Arsenal and England footballer Paul Merson has spoken movingly of his struggle with gambling addiction and stressed that more needs to be done to tackle the predatory gambling industry.

In a new film, Paul Merson: Football, Gambling and Me, to be aired on the BBC on Monday 11 October, he sets out his journey with various forms of addiction including drugs and alcohol but says gambling is the only addiction he continues to be dogged by to this day.

Merson lost more than £7 million of his football fortune to betting alone and has seen his family life blighted by financial losses. He told the BBC:

"I've been addicted to alcohol and cocaine, but by far the most destructive and the only one I'm still struggling with today is gambling”.

"If I want to get drunk or high, I have to put something up my nose or down me. Gambling's already in you, just waiting constantly, talking to you."

Merson relapsed during lockdown, losing the deposit for a house he and his wife Kate were hoping to move into with their children.

He lays some of the blame for gambling losses at the door of the betting industry, which bombards people including problem gamblers with incentives to bet again.

Asked about the effect of gambling adverts designed to lure people in, he said:

"I think the adverts are triggers. Now that I know more about how it can affect me, when the adverts come on, I turn them off."

In August this year, a report by polling company YouGov, demonstrated consensus across different countries that gambling companies are failing to protect vulnerable customers.

Almost 7 in 10 Italian adults, 6 in 10 British adults, 6 in 10 French adults and 5 in 10 German adults agreed with the statement ‘gambling firms don’t take problem gambling seriously’.

Commenting on the figures, CARE spokesman James Mildred said:

“While for some, gambling is just harmless fun, for a significant minority it causes genuine devastation. Addiction to betting can lead to job loss, relationship breakdown, family breakdown and suicide. With a continued rise in gambling addiction, undoubtedly fuelled by the lack of robust regulation, it is obvious gambling companies are not doing enough to protect vulnerable users. This sends a message that they simply do not care. The public are hearing that message loud and clear.

“Staggeringly, 60 per cent of profits betting companies make are levied from the five per cent of customers who are problem gamblers or are at risk of becoming so. I believe firms are failing in their moral duty to protect customers. They must do much more, including better monitoring of customer habits, blocking users who demonstrate addictive tendencies and ploughing significant investment into addiction services to help those who they’ve lured into addiction gain freedom.”

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While for some, gambling is just harmless fun, for a significant minority it causes genuine devastation. Our vision is to see laws passed that will help protect vulnerable problem gamblers.

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