'Playing slot machines at 8 started addiction that cost me £100,000'

A former gambling addict has told how he first became hooked after playing seaside slot machines - aged just eight. Kieren Smith, 33, first became addicted to slot machines when he would go on family holidays to visit relatives in Mabelthorpe, Lincolnshire.

As he got older, he started placing bets on different sports and he estimates he's lost over £100,000 altogether. The lorry driver hasn't placed a bet for nearly six years but says that even at eight years old, he always 'wanted to gamble more than the average person' would.

Kieren said: "I would be in the arcade at eight years old and would be standing watching my relatives on the machines. I would just get really excited from it and really enjoyed it, so I was dragging the stools up to reach coin slots.

"That was the start of my gambling journey. I would also play bingo - most people would just sit at one chair and have one sheet but I was having four chairs and be running side to side to mark them all off.

"This was at eight years old, even at that age I wanted to gamble more than the average person and I wanted more chance of winning. I would go to the seaside to visit my family and it would be an inconvenience for me because I didn't want to see people, I wanted to gamble. I would be singing 'gamble time, gamble time' and I was 12 years old."

As Kieren got older, he would ask family members to put a bet on football for him and then he would do this himself when he was old enough. But he says when he received his paycheck, he would go straight to the betting shop and then be in 'in absolute rage' because he had lost his week's wage.

Kieren, of Rotherham, South Yorks, said: "When I was going into my adult years, gambling was everything to me. I was earning my own money and would get paid in cash weekly.

"So if I actually brought my wages home just one time a month, then I had done really well. I would slog all week, go to the betting shop, promise myself I'm only having £10 on one and then come out in an absolute rage because I've lost everything.

"That was a familiar pattern throughout my journey, I would lose my wages regularly. Then when I had nowhere else to go in terms of my wages, I would then borrow money and then I would go for payday loans.

"I had no idea how I would pay the money back but in my mindset, the consequences could wait until after. I was always chasing a big win."

Kieren's turning point came in 2018 after he was made homeless, as he was unable to pay his rent, and he overdosed. He said: "I just reached the point where it had to stuff and I managed to speak to the national gambling helpline.

"I just felt so ready to stop so I managed to stop. That was December 2018 and I've never had a single bet since then."

Kieren says he is now unable to get a mortgage or even have a mobile phone contract, because of how much money he gambled over the years.

He's now advising young people to 'educate themselves' on the other side of gambling before they start placing bets. Kieren said: "If you are going to gamble, then don't do it for peer pressure or because your friends are doing it and you don't want to feel left out.

"Don't gamble on your own and don't isolate yourself from people when you are gambling. You need to set aside money that you can afford to lose.

"If you are starting to struggle with gambling or you are gambling more than usual, then it's important that you reach out and speak to someone. I think people think you have to stand in a room and then everyone makes a fuss of you, while you tell your story but it's not like that.

"Just give yourself an education on the other side of gambling because you go into that world because you can spiral and it's really hard to come back from."

Kieren is also now calling for gambling companies to change their advertising and 'to show the other side' of betting. He said: "In my opinion, I feel like gambling companies can target individuals as they appear to be looking after them and trying to help them.

"People's spending habits are tracked so if there's a big spender who hasn't gambled for a few days, then they'll message them giving them credit. That's just one part of advertising - the other parts are obvious because everyone can see them.

"They are on the radio, online, in the newspapers and at football matches - it's everywhere you look. "The disappointing thing for me is that children are seeing this.

"I have no problem with people gambling because people do it responsibly and I'm not against it whatsoever. But I would like people to know the dangers of it and have the awareness so they can make a better, informed decision.

"Advertising campaigns don't show you the other side - they don't show you that people can lose custody of their children because of it. Or they don't show that people will be never be able to get a mortgage."