In October, ex-Arsenal and England football star Paul Merson appeared on BBC1 in his own documentary entitled “Paul Merson: Football, Gambling & Me”. He spoke openly about the gambling addiction that has spanned more than 35 years and cost him and his family a whopping £7million.

Now aged 53, he won 21 caps for England and played for Arsenal between 1985 and 1997. Merson also played for Brentford, Portsmouth and Middlesborough, and had a short stint as manager at Walsall.

The documentary was Merson’s powerful first-person account about his issues. He set out to find out why gambling has so badly blighted his life, and he explored the link between gambling and football, which is undeniably big business not only down to the sponsorship deals but with an advertising spend of more than £1.5 billion a year, 80 per cent of which is online.

Merson, who now lives in a rental property with his wife and children after he lost the money they were saving for a new house, said that more responsibility needs to be taken by the gambling industry.

He is now on the path to recovery and is undergoing therapy and meeting scientists who have brand new theories on addiction to better understand how his mind is triggered.

Merson has been a gambling addict for 36 years and says that he still feels the compulsion now, even though he has gone nine months without placing a bet.

Despite losing so much money because of his long-term addiction, he is not calling for betting to be banned. Instead, he wants the betting companies to have accountability for those who get dangerously addicted.

According to figures, one person commits suicide every day in the UK because of gambling problems. Merson believes that gambling companies need to have the power/option to limit the accounts of those who are addicted.

So, Are All Bets Off?

The documentary in itself was powerful and thought-provoking, and although the aims of the UK Gambling Commission, which regulates arcades, casinos, betting, bingo and remote gambling (online and by phone), are to keep crime out of gambling, and to protect the vulnerable, much more needs to be done.

During the lockdown of 2020 due to COVID-19, the UK Gambling Commission released additional guidance for remote gambling operators. The shift towards more stringent gambling regulations here in the UK is not, of course, purely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest Gambling Commission report speaks of the financial harms of online gambling/in-game purchases and recommends tracking the sites’ time. The lockdown caused a shift in consumers attitudes towards gambling, and the new guidance reflects this. The Commission was particularly concerned by an increase in online gambling of 25% after just the first lockdown, not to mention the increased monetary spend and time that “engaged gamblers” were spending on online gambling.

More substantive monitoring of customers’ financial circumstances was one of the things that the new rules asked of online gambling operators. Measures would include implementing blocking mechanisms for players with affordability issues and highlighting those that spent excessive time on gambling sites.

Punters can help themselves when they play on these sites by setting weekly or monthly spending limits and limiting the time they actually spend on the sites in the first place.

There is an entire virtual world of gambling, and you can play at numerous online casinos that offer a wide range of games such as roulette, poker, blackjack, and baccarat. There are online slot machine sites, which offer a wide range of traditional, video and arcade slot machines for you to try – and many of these online casinos offer live casino games 24/7.

Whether you are new to online betting or are an old hand, it’s always recommended that you only play on sites regulated by the UK Gaming Commission, as these sites promote responsible gambling. ‘Safer gambling’ means being able to bet or gamble without risking harm to yourself or others, whether that be financial, physical or mental harm.

Whilst safe and responsible gambling is adopted by most people, for some, gambling will cause harm. Relationship problems, financial problems, and impacts such as stress and depression can all arise as a result of gambling addiction, so know your limitations, set your limits, and keep it fun.