By Sophie Norris
A dad of two who blew £250,000 in a 12-year gambling addiction has praised new legislation on fixed-odd betting terminals (FOBTs) maximum stakes.
Shamil Gillani, 32, spent the colossal amount in regular gambling binges spending up to £500 a month.
Shamil even blew most of his wedding fund the night before his big day when his addiction caused him to hit ‘rock bottom’.
His use of gambling machines saw him drop out of university, splash entire wages for a month in a lunch time and put his marriage in jeopardy.
Now, 18 months into his recovery, fraud analyst Shamil has backed new laws set out by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport which will change the maximum stake for FOBTs from £100 to a £2 maximum stake.
Now he is in a much better place and is preparing to buy a house with his wife Harriet, 29, he is spreading the message to others that there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.
Shamil, from Chessington, Greater London, said: “When I was addicted to gambling I was a master manipulator, a liar.
“It was a juggling act. All gambling is a juggling act. It’s constantly in your mind. It’s based on lies, deceit and calculation.
“Had there been £2 stakes at the time I really don’t think I’d have been as addicted as I was.
“I was about 17 when I first started using the fixed-odd betting terminals. I would play fruit machines every so often and my friends introduced me to the bookies.
“I went in and within a couple of minutes someone in there won £100. Being a teenager, this was a lot of money.
“That is where my addiction began and from there, it got really bad really quickly.”
For 12 years Shamil battled against the urge to gamble, using his bonuses at work to go on lunch-time gambling binges and hid the truth from his wife.
He was even forced to drop out of university after spending his student loan on machines and casinos, before gambling away £10,000 of inheritance.
Shamil said: “As time went on, I was still at college and working part-time. All my wages were going on gambling.
“I then went to university and carried on. Although I went to Gamblers Anonymous to get some help, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind and continued gambling.
“As a result, I dropped out of university after a year because I’d lost all my student loan.
“After that I started to work full time. I was earning a lot more, but I continued on the machines.
“At one point when it was really bad, I was gambling a month’s wage over one lunch break.
“I was earning good money and getting bonuses, but I wouldn’t tell my wife about them. I’d keep the money and gambling it away on the machines.
“Then my grandma passed away and my dad gave me £10,000 to pay off my debts. I used it to gamble and lost it.”
Shamil met his wife in 2009 and although she knew about the gambling, he claims she never knew the full extent until he was forced to come clean in 2016 after losing their entire month’s rent.
The day before his wedding in 2014, Shamil gambled and lost all the money they had saved to pay the remaining balance on the day, forcing him to borrow from payday loan companies.
Shamil attended Gamblers Anonymous a number of times over the 12-year period, but it wasn’t until the full extent of his gambling was discovered in 2016 that he decided to get help.
Shamil said: “My wife Harriet knew that I was gambling but not the full extent.
“The day before our wedding, I gambled away all our money which was meant to pay off our guests’ lunches the next day.
“I had to go to a pay-day loan company to afford to feed them.
“My children were born in 2012 and 2013 and during their early years I’d go months betting just £100 a month, but sometimes it’d become £500.
“I would have a loss and be back at the casinos again, trying to win it back.
“When I confessed that I’d spent an entire month’s rent in 2016, I went to Gamblers Anonymous again and have been attending ever since.
“I sometimes chair the meetings myself.
“My wife knew I was gambling but when the full extent of it was revealed, so she was very upset and betrayed. Everything was calculated, that’s what hurt her the most.
“For the first six months in my recovery she couldn’t trust that I wasn’t going to gamble. I put a lot of things in place at the beginning to make sure I didn’t.
“She was in control of the finances and cards and I would have to show her receipts of everything I’d bought.
“Since then, things have been great. We are both very happy and have the kids.
“We’re better now. We’re finally at the point where we are on the verge of buying a house, but I know I could have quite easily had a house seven or eight years ago if I hadn’t gambled my money away.”
Shamil has now praised new legislation which will lower the maximum stakes on fixed-odd betting terminals to £2 instead of £100, claiming it will be less of an incentive for addicts and help protect young people.
Shamil said: “These new rules are a big step in the right direction, it should only be the start.
“It’s less of an incentive if you can only win £200 in a certain amount of time, instead of £500 or if you can only gamble £2 instead of £100 a time.
“£2 is a reasonable amount for a gamble, before you could lose £9,000 in an hour.
“I worry about the youth of tomorrow. I don’t want them to go through the same problems and troubles that I went through.
“For people who think they are addicted, I want them to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
An Association of British Bookmakers spokesman said: “This is a decision that will have far-reaching implications for betting shops on the high-street.
“We expect over 4,000 shops to close and 21,000 colleagues to lose their jobs.
“The independent expert advice warned that this would simply shift people, the majority of whom gamble responsibly, to alternative forms of gambling where there is less chance of human interaction and its impact on problem gambling levels is far from certain.
“As the industry adjusts its business model, those shops that do survive will continue to provide a safe place to gamble with staff interaction and industry leading responsible gambling measures and support British sport.”