Failed Self-exclusion Stories: Charlie from Manchester


Ever since we launched the Global Self-Exclusion Initiative website, we have been receiving messages from players inquiring about the possibility to self-exclude from all gambling websites on the internet. Many of them also shared their experience and stories with us, letting us know how they struggle with gambling and are unable to block themselves from accessing gambling websites.

Charlie, a man from Manchester in his forties, is one of these players. Charlie decided to share his story publicly, hoping to shine some light on the insufficiencies of currently available self-exclusion tools and perhaps help some players that struggle with gambling, like he does. You can find my interview with Charlie below. Keep reading to learn about his views and experience with both gambling and self-exclusion.

What was your first experience with gambling? Do you think that it could have influenced your current gambling behaviour?

I never really had an interest in gambling as such when I was younger (16 upwards). I used to like to play the fruit machines in the pub, but this was a bit of a thing between the lads at the time. We all used to sit and watch each other have a go and then try to win the money that they had put in. At the time it all seemed like harmless fun, but I suppose looking back that this was the beginning of the fascination of winning what seemed to be easy money. How wrong was I to be?

How did you become aware of online gambling? What was your first impression of it?

I remember vividly how my journey into online gambling began. It was 2009 and I was working as a warehouse manager at a local company. I was blissfully unaware of the world of online gambling until a driver who used to collect goods began to tell me and my colleague these stories of how he’d won £1000 off just £20 deposit on these online slots sites. I was immediately intrigued and began to ask for more info and what these sites were. As the days and weeks passed, the wins became larger, obviously the driver failed to mention how much he was actually losing at the time. People only ever tell you about the wins as I know far too well.

How did your first experience with online casino games end up?

So, it began. I found a site which would work on my iPhone. Back in 2009 casino sites didn’t really work well on Apple devices. They were more geared to Android. Anyway, it was ‘Get Minted Casino’ who I set my first account up with. Deposited £20 and lost the lot within a few seconds. What a load of shit I thought this was. Nothing of a rush or buzz, jeez I had more fun on the fruit machines in the pub back in the day. The attraction to this new form of gambling wasn’t instant attraction at all, it was far more drawn out. The weeks went by and I put the odd bit of cash in without winning anything.

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Did you stop playing after these losses?

Then all of a sudden after a couple of months of forgetting about this casino I received an email saying that there was £50 bonus credit in my account. It was Good Friday, I remember the day well. I was stunned. I mean, who gives free money away? There must be a catch! Well, I logged in to play and within about 20 minutes I was up to £10k playing Cleopatra slots.

That sounds like a huge win from a bonus. What has followed after that?

Then the greed and blindness of playing these video slots took over. I was playing £100 spins convinced I wouldn’t stop winning. £100 spins??? I had never played over £2 spins prior to this point. Anyway, the balance dropped dramatically and I eventually cashed out £7700. Wow, what a result. So, I told everyone about my win and about this casino and of course everyone tried their hand at it. I had a good win in a land-based casino the day after this too. Again, land-based casinos were only somewhere we went to drink until late as the bar never seemed to close. I seemed to be on a great winning streak. So, I logged back into Get Minted and saw that I could reverse my deposit and continue to play. How cool is this I thought. More like how stupid this feature is. My withdrawal was eventually £2300. So pretty much £8k down from my initial win 2 night before.

Big wins are one of the main triggers of unhealthy gambling habits. Do you think that you would have acted differently in case you had more information about how gambling works and what treats it has?

That is a tough question to answer. I definitely agree that the big win triggered my unhealthy relationship with gambling. Without a doubt that was a major factor in the obsession that I developed with trying to constantly repeat the feat. I’m not sure any amount of information on how gambling works would have stopped my mind believing that I was going to win big all the time.

How did your gambling habits continue afterwards?

That was the point where my battle with this horrible disease was out of control. No logic can be applied to what you do when you are transfixed with the slots running around on your phone. It isn’t even about how much you win or lose at the time. You chase the next bonus spins convinced that this is the one and will stop at nothing until all your available funds have been exhausted. Then comes the guilt as the reality of losing all your money in the bank. How do I pay my bills, who can I borrow off, what loan can I get? I was stuck in this cycle for years, lost untold amounts of money and got massively in debt, still to this day. Convinced after a loss that I wouldn’t do it again. But for some reason I always did.

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Did you try to look for some help? What actions did you take to put a stop to this?

Yes, I used the internet to find gambling support groups and read forums to try to see if anyone else was going through the same things as me. I was shocked to find out just how many people are in the same position. I did actually book a counselling session with a local support centre. But I never actually went through with the appointment. I wasn’t convinced that by someone talking to me it would ‘fix’ my issue. I had tried a few online helplines and they all said the obvious things, like give someone your bank card, use blocking software, get someone to change your passwords on the apps, etc. Advice that, to be honest, is just a common sense approach to what you should do in that situation. When in reality there is no way you’d give up access to money as it just makes the craving for gambling worse. So, personally, I didn’t find these helplines to be of any use whatsoever. That’s not to say they don’t work for some people.

Did you try to use some self-limiting tools offered by casinos to help you stay away from gambling?

I tried the self-exclusion facilities. Brilliant invention. One major problem. They only banned you from that casino! So, the answer: open an account with someone else. This went on for a good few years and the number of casinos that I could actually use became smaller and smaller. I longed for a scheme to allow you to fill out one form and ban yourself from everywhere. Then came GAMSTOP. The saviour for so many people. I got loads of my friends on this scheme and for about 2 years I never even attempted to get on an online casino. But it turns out GAMSTOP is not as bullet proof as I thought. There are loads of casinos advertising themselves as not on GAMSTOP. The thing I didn’t realise as I found myself drawn back into this dark world is that most of these are foreign based, unlicensed or just pure scams.

Indeed, these sites can be dangerous. I understand that you continued gambling on foreign casinos. How did that end up?

Three times this year I have lost huge amounts of money. I can control my urges to some extent, as the thought of not receiving my winnings from these places does stop me using them. I do have the occasional blip. But after so many years of doing this, surely one day soon I’m going to give it up for good.

My most recent relapse brought me in touch with the scheme that you are trying to create. A worldwide self-exclusion. This would be by far the most effective thing to enable problem gambler to stop. Blocking software, letting people control finances and all the other ‘help’ that people can give you don’t work. The only way to stop problem gambling is through self-exclusion. Blocked gamblers can’t gamble. Simple.

There is solid scientific agreement that self-exclusion should be followed up by some sort of treatment to be effective. Would you agree with this? Could it have effect on your behaviour after your first self-exclusion?

I’m going have to disagree with this statement is some capacity. Self-exclusion, if done correctly, is the only way to prevent gambling. If you can’t access the sites, then you can’t gamble. The problem arises when you can just go and open an account at the next casino. The only thing that would have affected my behaviour when first discovered self-exclusion was if it totally blocked me from everything. That way I would have tried a few times to access sites then given up as it would have been impossible to do so. Just this weekend I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. The first thing he said to me was thank you. I said for what? He said for signing me up to that GAMSTOP. He said he has never even thought of gambling since the day I did it for him and his life is so much better. The friend in question had a serious addiction to the slots, and one night whilst we were out, I took his phone off him and signed him up for GAMSTOP. Now this method would work for probably 99% of people in his situation (I can name at least 10 other people I’ve done the same thing for who all have stayed gamble free). It’s just the determined few who will try to bend the system and find other ways to access (foreign sites, etc.).

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Are there any other things you tried to get yourself blocked?

I emailed 27 of the casinos not listed on GAMSTOP from a Google search to ask if I could be banned from signing up with their casino as I have a gambling problem. Only 1 replied to say that this isn’t possible, as I don’t already hold an account with them. I asked them to just blacklist my email and my address. No reply. This simply isn’t good enough and something needs to be done. I also emailed all the major licensing bodies across the world and asked them if it was possible to blanket ban me from all their casinos. All of them replied with the same answer of No. Malta was the only one who actively engaged with me and said that they are looking into a blanket ban for players. The rest just said to contact the individual casinos. How long would that take? Based on the experience of the 27 I emailed, why would I even bother?

What should be done or created in order to effectively stop a person’s gambling activities in case it is needed?

The global self-exclusion that you guys are trying to set up. There is simply no other way to stop a person to gamble effectively unless you take the opportunity to gamble away. Why it is so easy to ban yourself from land-based casinos or bookmakers, yet online it’s impossible to do so as I explained in my last answer. If I rang Ladbrokes and said I wanted to ban myself from my local bookmakers, they would take my name and it would happen straight away. Now, if I was to email Ladbrokes online casino and ask to be banned, they would say we can’t do that as you don’t hold an account with us. Why is this allowed to happen?

There are most probably many other stories similar to yours, what would you advise to them in order to get their gambling under control?

Self-exclude from everything that you possibly can.

Thank you very much for being this open and sharing your experience with us.

I am glad I could help in this cause.

Closing thoughts

Despite Charlie’s view that self-exclusion is the only way to stop gambling, I must point out once again that the scientific community believes that it is most effective when paired with some of treatment or professional help.

It is true that self-exclusion has the potential to be extremely helpful in preventing further harm. That is why launched this Initiative to create a more effective version of it.

However, in most cases, it is only creating a barrier between a player and gambling opportunities, without addressing the underlying causes that may be behind the problematic gambling behavior. That is why I believe that providing additional help for self-excluded vulnerable players is vital, and why it is part of our plans for the global self-exclusion system we aim to create.