John Hartson on tackling his gambling demons

As a teenager, former Premier League footballer John Hartson spent his pocket money on slot machines – but when his career took off, he developed a serious gambling addiction that saddled him with huge debts and nearly cost him his second marriage. Now an ambassador for personal insolvency practice Creditfix, John is helping others to get on top of their gambling debt, as the firm’s insolvency practitioner David Rankin explains.

For many people with a gambling addiction, John’s story sounds all-too-familiar. Growing up in Swansea, he began visiting amusement arcades on his way home from the local youth club at the age of around 10. Although he was spending a relatively small amount at this point, the seeds had already been sown for an addiction that lasted most of his adult life.

After beginning his professional football career when he was 17, John moved to Premier League side Arsenal two years later. However, his determination to succeed on the pitch was matched only by a growing compulsion to gamble. Looking back on this period of his life, he says:

“As a Premier League player, I had multi-million pound contracts that meant I could set up different betting accounts with several companies over the phone, instead of having to go to betting shops or casinos. Scoring goals gave me an adrenaline rush, but it wasn’t enough – I was addicted to winning, although it’s the losing that makes you put another bet on.”

At the height of his addiction, John was betting on any sport he could, from horse and dog racing to cricket and American football. During this time, nobody could stop him gambling – including his football managers, wife and young children. He’s since confessed that he would often lie about where he’d been and how much money he was betting.

The turning point came when his second marriage nearly collapsed because of the stress it had caused, as he describes here:

“My wife was downstairs, packing her bags and saying she was going to leave our home in Wales and return to her family in Scotland. I’d reached rock bottom, I just kept asking her not to go. When I promised I’d get help, she said I had to go to Gamblers’ Anonymous meetings. That was in 2011 and I have been going ever since. I’ve not placed a bet for six years because I know how close I came to losing everything.”

John has stressed that gambling debts are often relative to a person’s income. He might have had more to lose than someone on an average income, but the damage can be just as devastating.

Since John joined Creditfix as an ambassador earlier this year, we have been working together to raise awareness about excessive gambling and how it can lead to debt. Drawing on his own experience, he is now urging people to confide in their friends and family and seek professional support to pay off their debts.

If you need debt help, contact Creditfix on 0808 156 7728 for impartial and confidential advice.

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