Anti-gambling campaigner Hussain Vorajee fears Cheltenham Gold Cup will turn vulnerable punters into gambling addicts because of cheap bets being dangled under their noses. The reformed addict says many people do not know what they are getting into when they are lured in by the barrage of promotional offers for free flutters on the horses.
But he says for some novices those early bets will be the first step on the road to a serious habit that can end up with wrecked lived and even suicide. Mr Vorajee was speaking ahead of an event in London where retired footballer Paul Merson and ex England goalkeeper Peter Shilton called on the Government to look at the industry’s relationship with sport.
Gambling Minister Chris Philp was the keynote speaker at the event which is being held ahead of the results of a Government review of the 2005 Gambling Act. A White Paper was due to be published this month but has been delayed, possibly until May.
Read more: ‘I got myself banned from every Gloucester bookmakers to beat gambling addiction’
Campaigners such as reformed addict Mr Vorajee, who banned himself from betting shops in the city and was instrumental in the campaign to stop fixed odds terminals with stakes over £2, want the Government to go further.
“Any form of gambling exposes the risk of addiction and Cheltenham is no exception,” said the owner of Adelaide Taxis in Gloucester who believes gambling contributes to many suicides.
“The outdated gambling laws of 2005 need updating imminently as millions are gambling in the palms of their hands and it’s affecting huge numbers.
“Cheltenham Festival is a huge gambling arena and it’s presence will give the online betting companies tens of thousands of new accounts. Free bets and bonuses should be stopped as this has caused a lot of misery to so many over the years.”
Last week a landmark inquest into the suicide of Jack Ritchie, 24, found that although the reasons for people taking their own lives are complicated, “gambling contributed to his death” and the warnings and information available for those with a disorder are “woefully inadequate” “.
Mr Vorajee said he would personally ban gambling but campaigners Peers for Gambling Reform are concentrating on banning advertising in sports grounds and on football shirts.
“We need to stop this,” he said. “It’s a huge mental health issue that is now recognised by GPs and the NHS.”
Ex Arsenal player Paul Merson has spoken publicly about how the addiction wrecked his life and recently admitted on TV that he had relapsed during the pandemic.
“I have been a gambling addict for 35 years. It has taken the joy out of my life, made me distant from people I care about and led me to some dark places,” the former Arsenal player wrote in the times ahead of the meeting . “But it is only recently that I found out why. I wasn’t a bad person trying to get good, I was an ill person trying to get well.
“The gambling industry takes advantage of so many people. Something has to change, and we have to look again at gambling’s relationship with football.”
It’s something Mr Vorajee knows about all too well. He is part of a group of 30 people who collectively lost millions of pounds to gambling and are campaigning for a clampdown on the betting industry which they believe preys on vulnerable young people.
Like many of those involved in the campaign, the Gloucester man became addicted to the fixed odds terminals at a young age and then watched his life spiral out of control. Now the machines that tempted him in have been reduced to £2 stakes, but he says there’s more to be done because internet gambling is too easy.
He points to the many adverts offering first timers £60 worth of free bets if they open an online account and said: “These sort of adverts are dangerous and can lead to severe addiction.
“You can’t go anywhere nowadays without seeing these ads on a daily basis. It’s far too much advertising across social networks and like cigarettes and alcohol this should be stopped as it gets too many people into gambling addiction.”
But Vorajee wants people to know there is help out there.
The meeting was chaired by another addict, journalist Rob Davies who wrote the book Jackpot: How Gambling Conquered Britain. His book says deregulation has turned the UK into one of the largest gambling markets in the world, leaving a trail of misery in it’s wake.
Another speaker was Paul Pettigrew who created anti-gambling software for phones and is a director of Clean Up Gambling and Mr Vorajee met up with Gloucester MP Richard Graham.
The betting companies say stricter regulations will just encourage illegal activity and drive gambling underground where it is not regulated.
A spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council said: “Thirty million people in the UK enjoy a bet each year and the overwhelming majority do so safely. We are encouraged by the latest figures from the Gambling Commission that showed the rate of problem gambling was 0.3 per cent – down from 0.6 per cent 18 months ago.
“We strongly support the Gambling Review as a further opportunity to raise standards, but it’s vitally important that it strikes the right balance between protecting the vulnerable and not spoiling the enjoyment of the vast majority of customers who enjoy a flutter safely and responsibly.
“Cheltenham is a internationally renowned sporting event, during the pandemic, the regulated betting and gaming industry has provided some of the country’s most popular sport with vital funding. According to a report by EY commissioned by the BGC, horseracing benefits to the tune of £350m.”
Read more: Cheltenham Festival 2022 will see its biggest ever crowds
READ MORE: Places to eat, drink, park and watch the racing all within walking distance of the racecourse
Read more: Which members of the royal family will be at the Cheltenham Festival this year?