Gambling addiction: ‘I blew 80 per cent of my student loan and overdraft’

Having control over your own finances for the first time can have a detrimental impact on a student, finds Joe Woof whose gambling addiction spiralled at university 

April 18 2019
Gambling addiction, university, student

The first time I recall gambling was when I was still at school, around the age of 13 or 14. We used to play a game called “penny up” which involved tossing coins towards a wall and seeing who could get closest, with the winner taking all of the coins. I would spend all of my lunch money playing this game and would then lie to my mum that I had bought lunch, when I hadn’t.

After leaving school at 16, I completed college and gained a vocational qualification. Although I continued to gamble through playing cards with friends and using fruit machines in pubs, my gambling was restricted by me being under age.

I then went to the University of York to study sport and physical education – this was when my gambling became out of control.

Going to university gave me independence for the first time and access to more money than I had ever had before. It created a distance between me and my friends and family. I could go wherever I wanted, spend money on whatever I wanted, without anyone really knowing. I was now also old enough to gamble legally.

I would mainly bet on football and horse racing. One day I bet a £5 accumulator (a single bet that links together two or more individual wagers) which resulted in a big win. I could not believe how easy it was to turn such a small amount of money into several hundreds. Or so I thought. 

One day, when I was still at university, I saw one of my friends in the bookmakers playing roulette on a machine. He had put £10 into the machine and won £120 within 15 minutes. It seemed unbelievable. I now had an option for easy wins that was open to me seven days a week. My trips to the bookmakers soon went from lasting around 15 minutes to two to three hour sessions where I would go from betting tens of pounds to hundreds of pounds.

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When I went to university I had opened a student bank account with a high-street bank. Without proof of any income, I was given an overdraft of £1,000. I also received money every three months from the student loans company, totalling £3,500 per year. I blew 80 per cent of that money on gambling. I missed numerous lectures and essay deadlines as all I could think about was gambling. 

Then I moved to online gambling. I could play the casino-type games that I was the most addicted to from the comfort of my own room, whenever I wanted. It was at this point that I realised I had a problem.

I took out loans and extended overdrafts to fund my addiction. I was in debt of around £5,000 (excluding my student loans), with absolutely no means of being able to pay it back so I got a part-time job at a bookmakers. This just made things worse. Betting was my life at this point. I was either working in a bookmakers or in there gambling.

I sacrificed my studies, friendships and relationships. At this point the lying started. I lied to cover my tracks and to borrow money. I was lying to everyone and it was affecting my mental health. I was living two lives and it was exhausting. The pressure and stress from the debt was also mounting.

I knew I needed help but I wasn’t interested in addressing my addiction. I just wanted to get my financial situation back under control. My parents agreed to help me as long as I took steps to address my gambling problem, which I told them I would. I reassured them that my willpower would be enough. It wasn’t and I knew it. But I didn’t care, I just wanted the money. By this point I’d become an expert in deceiving people, I said a lot of things that I didn’t really mean. My only focus was gambling. Every decision I made was with a view to getting my fix.

I somehow managed to get out of university with a qualification. Not the honours degree I should have received, but a diploma.

After I graduated, I met my long-term partner but our relationship was always impacted by my addiction. Just like I had done to other people I loved and who had supported me, I lied and I stole money from her. We managed to buy a house but due to my poor credit rating it was in my partner’s name only. She was also worried that I would re-mortgage behind her back to fund my gambling. Despite the lies and the fact that I relapsed after stopping gambling, she agreed to marry me and we went on to have a child.

You would expect that the added responsibility of having a child would have helped me to stop, but it didn’t. I attended group support sessions, my partner took 100 per cent control of my finances and I barred myself from my local bookmakers, but I just couldn’t kick the habit and in the end it was too much pressure on our relationship.

I’m very lucky that my partner continued to support me as a friend and I finally started to kick the addiction. Not long after our split, the stress and pressure led to severe anxiety, depression and even an attempt to take my own life.

Now I would classify myself as a gambling addict with anxiety and depression. But I’m off the bet and I can finally see a bright future. I am an addict but I still have choices and I’m determined to make the right ones.

I now volunteer with the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust and I hope to turn my experience into something positive, and prevent others from going down the same road. Habits that I developed at a young age spiralled out of control when I was at university, where I had access to more money than before and I made silly decisions. Educating people about the potential problems and effects it can have on your future is so important, and I will do anything to help others avoid the situation that I found myself in.

YGAM runs a university and student engagement programme, employing second and third year students to lead in preventative education around gambling and gaming-related harm, which is already established in five universities.

YGAM is currently recruiting for volunteer youth ambassadors, people aged 16-25, to share their thoughts on gambling and gaming. You don’t have to have had any experience of addiction or problems in either of these areas, just have a keen interest in the subject. For more information and to apply, visit

If you are worried about your own or someone else’s gambling habits, please contact the National Gambling HelpLine open 8am-Midnight: 0808 8020 133 /

Read more: Universities must adopt a proactive approach to mental health


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