Ron Fer­gu­son

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen) - - FEATURES -

Kyle Laf­ferty is a very brave young man. By com­ing out pub­licly and re­veal­ing that he is a gam­bling ad­dict, the Hearts striker and North­ern Ire­land in­ter­na­tion­al­ist is rais­ing an is­sue that needs to be ad­dressed. In the process, he has also put him­self in the firing line. And he knows it. “I know I’m go­ing to take all sorts of grief off fans of other clubs,” he said. “It’s a big thing to do what I’m do­ing.

“I know Hearts fans and my team­mates will be be­hind me, though. I’m not talk­ing about this be­cause I’m look­ing for sym­pa­thy.”

Laf­ferty, whose goals helped North­ern Ire­land to qual­ify for the Euro 2016 fi­nals in France, ad­mits that he has gone through thou­sands of pounds in the last few years. As a high-pro­file player, he has been well paid for his day job, but the big money hasn’t stayed long in his pock­ets or in his bank ac­count.

“There’s been times when I’ve lost big. I don’t want to go into fig­ures, but I’ve lost on the roulette and then I’d be so close to get­ting it all back. I might be a grand or two from get­ting it back and I’d keep on go­ing. I’d be up two or three grand and I’d end up los­ing the lot.

In other words, Laf­ferty was fol­low­ing the gam­bling ad­dict’s well-worn script – if you lose a lot of money, you go back to the book­ies con­vinced that you will win it all back.

In the grip of his ad­dic­tion, Laf­ferty found him­self bet­ting on horses, al­though, by his own ad­mis­sion, he knew noth­ing about horses. He also lost big on the roulette ma­chines in bet­ting shops.

The fixed-odds bet­ting ter­mi­nals (FOBTs) are par­tic­u­larly lethal. Ev­i­dence for the case against them has been mount­ing over sev­eral months. The dam­age as­so­ci­ated with these fast-gam­bling ma­chines is huge.

In some cities pay-day loan shops are spring­ing up very close to book­ies’ premises with FOBTs. This means that a gam­bler who loses heav­ily can sim­ply go next door to get an ex­or­bi­tant loan – and then re­turn to the roulette ma­chines.

This prob­lem is not sim­ply a city one. Two years ago in Orkney there was a big bat­tle over the is­sue when an Ed­in­burgh book­maker sought a licence to open a shop con­tain­ing FOBTs in the cen­tre of Kirk­wall. Aware of the mount­ing ev­i­dence of dev­as­ta­tion in other parts of the coun­try, lo­cal cam­paign­ers soon had more than 700 sig­na­tures on a pe­ti­tion op­pos­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion.

The lo­cal li­cens­ing board turned the ap­pli­ca­tion down twice, de­spite the fact that the ap­pli­cant had hired a lawyer who spe­cialised in gam­bling leg­is­la­tion.

The bookie ap­pealed to the sher­iff court, where Sher­iff An­drew Berry, with the wis­dom of Solomon, gave a judge­ment that both stopped the ap­pli­ca­tion in its tracks and pro­cured a com­mit­ment from the book­maker that he would not re­turn with an­other sim­i­lar ap­pli­ca­tion.

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