A dad who lost around £1 million and is estranged from his son after a 30-year gambling addiction is warning others about the dangers of fixed odds betting terminals.
Tony Franklin, who lives in Aylesbury, says that years of highs and lows playing fruit machines, and later high-stakes machines in betting shops have taken a toll on his health, destroyed his marriage and left him in thousands of pounds worth of debt.
He says that legislation needs to be tightened around the fixed odds terminals, on which on December 12, 2014 in an Aylesbury branch of Coral bookmakers, he lost £4,100 in an hour, before seeking help for his addiction.
He said: “The fixed odds machines are dangerous because they are designed to create a desperation. You go into this sort of red mist and a feeling of desperation comes over you.
“The machine goes so fast you can’t make a proper decision and you can play one game of roulette every 20 seconds, the maximum stake is £100 and in a minute you can lose £300.
“That means that in an hour you could lose £18,000.”
Fixed odds betting terminals were introduced by high street bookmakers in 1999, and have proved controversial.
The charity GamCare says that nearly half of people accessing their helplines have problems with the machines.
But Tony, 44, was already in the grip of his addiction in 1999.
Brought up in a seaside town, he was playing low-stakes gaming machines from an early age, even lying to his parents that he was going trainspotting so that he could play his favourite machines at a railway station.
He said: “My parents first realised I had a problem when I was about 14.
“They didn’t realise until I started stealing from the family. I was an addict, and when I was asked what I wanted to do for my birthday I said I wanted to go on a boat in Windermere. When we got there my parents realised that it was because there was this specific type of machine on the boat, and I’d said I wanted to go there so that I could empty it.”
Tony was taken to child psychologist, but at that time much less was known about gambling addiction and he says he was ‘pretty much written off’.
He left home aged 16 and had infrequent contact with his parents turning to the highs and lows of gambling as a source of stability. By the time Tony reached his 20s he said ‘everything was just to do with gambling’.
Despite his growing problem and mounting debts. Tony has held down a string of sometimes very well-paid sales jobs, but frequently moved house to escape debts.
But as Tony approached his 30s fixed odds betting terminals arrived and his problem reached a ‘whole new level’.
He said: “Up until that point I’d mainly been playing in pubs. If you play in the pubs on the machines you can lose a lot of money, but you are not going to lose £5,000.
“When fixed odds betting terminals came in it was a whole new level.
“By my mid thirties everything just caught up with me.”
Tony decided to move abroad, fell in love and got married. The couple had a son, but Tony’s addiction soon got the better of him and he is now estranged from his wife, and the seven-year-old who lives with his mother in Slovakia.
Under UK law all licensed gambling premises have a duty of care to keep out underage people, refuse people they suspect may be money laundering and prevent any behaviour which may harm the individual customer.
Tony is now receiving treatment for his addiction and has had himself ‘banned’ from betting shops in Aylesbury.
He keeps thousands of pounds worth of receipts with him at all times, as a reminder of what his life was like before.
He said: “I’ve been diagnosed with bipoloar disorder and I take medication. I think it’s partly due to having my mood dictated by a machine for 30 years. I want the fixed odds machines restricted to casinos only.
“You have to make a conscious decision to go to a casino, if we must have them there is a better place to have them. I’m lucky to be alive.”