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.