September 22, 2017

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Having almost ruined his marriage, 42-year-old Welshman John Hartson has enough credentials and experience to be able to raise awareness about the dangers of gambling.

For Mr Hartson, gambling started at a very early age at slot machines: “It controlled my whole world for many years. It became a real problem and caused major issues in my life, leading to relationship problems with my wife, children, friends and parents,” he said during the second Responsible Gaming Conference, organised by Kindred and the Foundation for Social Welfare Services.

The event brought together all stakeholders, including operators, psychologists, gamblers and academics.

Mr Hartson, a former Celtic striker who also played for Arsenal and West Ham and is now a pundit for BT Sport, said he wanted to pass on a message about the dangers of getting too involved with gambling and becoming a compulsive gambler.

So how did he overcome the addiction?

She was going to leave and take my children.

“It was a very poignant moment. My wife and I had a massive row and she was going to leave and take my children if I didn’t stop. That was my rock bottom.

“From that day on, I sought help. I can now help others who are in the same place I was in six years ago. I was in disarray,” Mr Hartson told the Times of Malta.

With “a lot of help and self-control” he managed to turn things around and has not placed a bet in six years. He is now “in a great place” with his wife, their family has grown since then.

In his address to a packed hall at the same gaming conference, Kindred CEO Henrik Tjarnstrom noted that while gambling had been around for centuries, digitisation has enabled operators to understand clients better and learn about their gambling patterns.

Kindred, which started off as Unibet in 1997, is one of Europe’s leading online gambling groups that operate across the continent and Australia.

“We work very hard at ensuring a safe and secure environment for our customers as we want them to remain customers and enjoy gambling,” he said. The gambling group has its own responsible gaming team that kicks into action when it suspects unhealthy behaviour.

He referred to a customer who “was not in a good place in life”.

“We initiated contact and spoke to him for weeks until he regained control of the situation through our responsible gaming team. Why didn’t we close the account? We were convinced he most likely would have gone to another operator and continued with this problem,” he said, adding that the client contacted the company a year later to express his thanks for helping him get back on his feet.

Digital Economy Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri meanwhile told the conference gambling contributed to 12 percent of Malta’s GDP. However, the government did not get carried away by numbers and, over the past years, invested in responsible gaming initiatives, he added.

According to a recent survey, about two percent of the population that consumed gaming services reported some type of adverse effects on their lifestyle, he noted. “Gambling addiction is a reality and the government needs more information to help it take more initiatives… We need everybody on board,” Mr Schembri said.

Signs to look out for:

▪ Betting tickets suggesting large bets.

▪ Preferring to play slot machines alone.

▪ Always short of cash despite regular income.

▪ Money or items disappearing from home.

▪ Preoccupation with studying betting guides.

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