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Gambling and Me: The Real Hustler - Alexis Conran

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Alexis Conran Alexis Conran | 17:37 UK time, Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Presenter - Alexis Conran 

I cannot remember the last time I saw my father. In fact, I have very few precious memories of him. I remember him being strict and yet fun to be around, the problem was he was hardly ever around. Why? Because he was always running away from friends, family and the law.

From a very young age my father got hooked on gambling and he spent the rest of his life in a vicious circle trying to keep up with his losses - literally robbing Peter to pay Paul, eventually turning him into a fraudster and ultimately landing him in jail.

So here’s the irony: son of a conman gambler ends up on screen as conman specialising in card cheating. Was it a coincidence?

My parents divorced when I was seven and I had very little contact with my father since. But why is it that I took to gambling like a duck to water? My brain functions like that of a conman. My first question is always, “How can I cheat this?” Is it genetics? Maybe.

I wanted to see what destroyed the life of a highly intelligent and charming man. Filming this documentary opened my eyes to an addiction that is as serious - if not more difficult to comprehend - as that of drugs and alcohol. I remember being so shocked on the first day of filming in Las Vegas when I met a gambling addict who looked me in eyes and said that he found it easier to give up heroin and crack than to give up gambling.

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How do you know what a gambling addict looks like? If your mate became an alcoholic or a drug addict, within a few weeks you’d be able to tell and you might even be able to help. As with my mother, most people only find out that their nearest and dearest has a gambling problem when it’s too late. The bailiffs are at the door, the debts are unmanageable and the betrayal of trust is irreparable.

Gambling is everywhere at the moment. You can’t watch a football match without being prompted to gamble. You can gamble online, in the high street, and on your mobile phone. However, in school there is no education about the effects of gambling like there is about drugs and alcohol.

Don’t get me wrong, I love gambling but for some people it can be a devastating addiction. I met a young guy in Blackpool who told me the roulette machine in the bookies is his best friend and yet it has ruined his life and led him to lose everything, forcing him to live in a hostel.

I am immensely proud of this documentary. It helped me deal with personal issues I
needed to deal with concerning my father and I hope it brings the subject of gambling addiction into the public awareness.

Gambling and Me: The Real Hustler is on Wednesday 21st March at 9pm

For information and advice on gambling, go to BBC Health.


  • Comment number 1.

    What a brave guy you are. It's difficult to stare into the heart of darkness (I know I've done it) and return unscathed. Will be watching this tonight and cheering you all the way. Brilliant!!!

  • Comment number 2.

    I looking forward to this..having been on both sides of the "counter" over a period of 50 years I feel qualified to comment..firstly there is a difference between a gambler and a punter, put simply a punter knows his limits which is a world away from a being a gambler, so I would ask a punter what it is that stops him from becoming a gambler..secondly the introduction of gaming-machines (FOBT'S) has seen, and in my opinion, will continue to see a rise in problem gambling..I witnessed a decline in custom because young people were not coming into betting shops in great enough numbers to replace the old style horse/dog punters who were dying off, so something had to be done to overcome this and, because lots of youngsters played electronic games, the link between game playing and gambling was made...many commentators believe that this has led to a proliferation of betting shops on the high street and, in a way, they are correct, the problem being that Bookmakers are only allowed 4 machines per shop, so, if they want 8 machines they need to have 2 shops and if you want less betting shops on the high street Bookmakers must be allowed more machines per shop but the number of shops they operate should be limited. As a betting office manager I was disturbed to see that some of my customers who would usually bet say 10 or 20 pounds all of a sudden thought nothing of stuffing £100 into a gaming machine and watching it disappear in just a few minutes..I tried several times to counsel some of my customers but with very little success, I might spot that a regular customer would have a credit of £500 or more and I would approach them saying things like "How much do you want for a days work" or "Take the money and run"..mostly, this would fall upon deaf ears because you are asking someone to bring to an end his "winning streak"...the machines do not dispense cash so the customer would just continue playing with the "number" on the screen can iamgine the rest.
    I know that this will not stop anyone from gambling but remember this...the machines are not there for "your benefit" and although the machine might promise to return 90% it never tells you over what period (it could be the life-time of the machine) the past I lost a house deposit and ver nearly lost my family and that was because of my "problem" betting on the horses...these machines are much more addictive, be very very careful, you could easily lose something which is far more important than your money. GO

  • Comment number 3.

    I watched your documentary on Wednesday night and have been thinking about it since. I was married to a compulsive gambler and it is so important to highlight how destructive this addiction is to the gambler themselves and also to those around them. My husband left almost 3 years ago in very similar circumstances to your father and we are still trying to sort out our lives and finances. I worry that my young son will have the potential for this addiction and would keep a copy of this to show him when he's older (if I could figure out how to do it!). Thanks for raising the profile of an addiction which destroys lives but is rarely talked about. V

  • Comment number 4.

    Eventually brought myself to watch your programme, thought it was excellent and should be aired on BBC 1&2 if possible. Over the last 12 years I have been a heavy
    gambler on horse racing and after many highs and lows I am now at rock bottom, again.
    It will soon be my birthday and I am hoping to get a visit from my 20 year old daughter who I love very much indeed. Although she knows of my gambling, as I have spoken to her about it, I intend to sit her down and to watch your programme
    while I go out for a couple of hours, then if she feels she wants to talk about it we can, but if not at least I'll know that she will have more of an insight into problem gambling and why there may be reasons beyond my control for letting her down so badly.
    I do not see this as using the programme as an apology or excuse for my idiotic behaviour, but as giving some answers as to the reasons for my actions over the years. Your programme reflects many of my thoughts and feelings which I would have trouble in communicating effectively face to face.

  • Comment number 5.

    Congratultions on your excellent program Alexis. It was about time someone pointed out what a blight on society these bookmakers and in particular, the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, are. I know personally of around 20 people who have been or are, addicted to these machines. It's a horrible addiction and the more it is highlighted, the more chance of it being banned or at the least regulated.
    Effectively you can lose £100 in a single spin which takes around 20 seconds. This means a person could lose an absolute fortune in the course of a single day. One person I know has lost upwards of £250k and lost his family and business in the process.
    Whilst it will be easy for some to sneer or look down their nose and say " it's his own fault, he should have had discipline", this is because they don't understand it's a disease. The big problem being, its a disease that bookmakers are spreading like chemical warfare with these machines. They belong in a casino NOT in our high street where anyone can walk in and play, completely un-monitored, from 9am until 10pm.
    I urge you Alexis, to do a follow up show, perhaps focussing more on these evil scam machines. And then maybe, just maybe, someone will sit up and take notice.

  • Comment number 6.

    Just wanted to say that overall I thought your documentary had some great content. As a recovering compulsive gambler I thought the part of the show with Dr Luke Clark was fascinating. I personally haven't gambled for over 5 years however a lot of the content of the show took me back to the bad old days. I have posted a more full review at my blog at

    I do hope that the BBC make more content of this type and as the previous poster mentioned a follow show would be great.

  • Comment number 7.

    Strong statement on gambling. I work in a betting shop as a cashier. Since starting there, my opinion of gambling has dramatically changed. Now, I see people that I've come to quite like and worry about on a daily basis. I do agree with the your argument the gambling industry is profiting off of addiction. This is something I am extremely uncomfortable with and feel guilty about it. I do feel that I am a cog in a greedy industry and this is not how I wish to be earning my living. In this economic downturn, this is the first regular work that I have been able to find in a long time.

    However, I do wish to correct an assumption about those of us working in high street betting shops. We do have procedures for self-exclusion and those self excluding must bring in a photo to attach to their form. We do review these forms daily, but we are also reviewing photos of robbers and fraudsters, daily too. Usually this is not a problem for those of us who work at one shop consistantly. We get to know those faces pretty well, but there are employees who move around a variety of shops in a district. Reviewing those faces everyday can become a blur because self-excluded list varies from shop to shop. Honestly, a gambling addict who has self-excluded will take advantage of a situation, if they see an unfamiliar face working behind the counter. We do try to be on top of it because it could mean our jobs however, you'd have to have a photographic memory to cope with all that information.

    Secondly, we are told in our training that we should approach someone who may have a problem with gambling. However, induction and training courses can not entirely prepare you for the reality. Like any addict, they can be unnerving and frightening to observe. Their behavior can become quite irrational. I've seen people shake like they were masterbating. I've witnessed them scream profanities and threaten us with harm because they believe we are controlling the machines from behind the counter.

    I'm fortunate my shop is in a fairly safe neighborhood. However, I have heard of employees being assaulted. In fact, I heard about a woman who got assaulted by a barred customer just today. I did feel that it was unfair on your part to point a finger at betting shop employees for not being on the ball. I try to do my job to the best of my ability and skill and within the law. I do feel a sense of responsibility towards my customers teetering on the edge. There have been times when myself or my co-workers have been blunt with certain customers about their habits. I have refused to take bets on the grounds the customer was too vulnerable but that doesn't stop them from coming in when I'm not there. The responsibility for taking the first step rests with the gambling addict. On the other hand, you even stated gambling addicts are dangerous so why should I put myself in harms way to address it?

  • Comment number 8.

    Thelibran is also correct about the machines too. Most of the customers I would identify with gambling addiction often play the machines. Now our shops are going to be getting new machines where we are supposed to push some type of loyalty card with "bonuses" to keep them tethered to the machines for even longer. Most of our promotions center around the FOBT machines. I've worked in the industry for less than a year and it seems that these promotions are becoming more and more frequent.

  • Comment number 9.

    Well, gambling is fun but addictive indeed. I can totally imagine how tough it is to film that documentary without falling into the addiction pit! My colleague loves to gamble online, and his particular favourite game is bingo which he always plays at a particular site which he calls it the best online bingo site around. There will be moments where you win, and moments where you lose, to keep up the thrill in gamblers, with at a silent and unnoticeable overall net loss, and I don't see how you're going to eventually beat the system which is designed only for the owners to win.

    Haha, I think trying to figure a way to beat the system is another reason why it gets the more intelligent people addicted. Very nice film, and I think it will be a very helpful video for many gamblers out there to view it from such a unique perspective! It's very interesting to view it from someone with the mindset of cheating the system, than just blindly hoping to win. Very good job! :)


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