Scott Davies sharing experiences to help prevent problem gambling

“Some people will understand, some won’t. But there was a point when betting was the reason I was getting out of bed in the morning. Not the football, not my family, I just got up and placed bets, that was it. It was all I wanted to do.”

Whether it’s the lifestyle, passion for the game or simply it’s a better than sitting in an office five times a week; give a football fan the opportunity to become a footballer and more often than not your hand would be snapped off.

Scott Davies was one of the lucky ones to be scouted. As a fresh-faced teenager he signed his first professional contract for Reading FC, just as the Royals had been promoted to the top tier of English football for first time in the clubs history back in 2006.

Before the age of 30 he estimates he had lost over £200,000 to a gambling addiction that manipulated his life and career before entering rehab in 2015.

Nowadays however he is doing his best to make sure other footballers are better informed of the pitfalls, after being approached by Paul Buck, CEO of EPIC Risk Management, an independent gambling harm-minimisation consultancy.

Buck offered Davies the opportunity to join the company – following a deal struck with Sky Bet and the EFL working football clubs to raise awareness.

Last year Sky Bet, in an agreement with the EFL, invested £1m to educate all the EFL clubs about responsible gambling and to conduct awareness programmes.

A five-year partnership was arranged between the EFL and Epic Risk Management who provide a full-day’s training on gambling-related harm with the additional options of follow up counselling and support that any players require to all the 72 EFL clubs.

EPIC works in high risk sectors – plus other sectors including schools, prisons and with operators – travelling the UK telling personal stories of gambling problems that culminate up to £3m in losses.

“It’s been brilliant ever since I joined. Firstly it gave us an opportunity to talk about our issues more openly which I think is massive for recovery.

“But also we only have positive intentions, we’re not doing it for anything other than to help people. We have experiences across a range of gambling issues from bankruptcy to divorce  and the reality of our stories often resonates with people more than just a standard presentation.”

Davies believes “the responsibility of my own addiction was with myself” and awareness of your own situation is the most important component of stopping problem gambling.

“I should have been more open and honest but I do think operators and banks should have more of a responsibility.

“For example, nobody was asking me questions behind the till when I was placing bets and you’ve got operators quick to offer ‘VIP’ customers  bonuses and however meaningless it might seems all this simply adds fuel to the fire.”

Downfall

Davies was held in high regard as a youngster. He played for Ireland in the U19 European Championships and helped Aldershot Town to the Conference league title in 2008 – winning goal of the season along the way.

Despite promising times on the pitch, from a young age, he found difficulty with gambling. It was at Aldershot where the first real signs of problem gambling came to fruition in the disguise of “menial away day poker games at the back of the team bus.”

Before returning to Reading, Davies had racked up a poker debt of £2000 to a teammate across the length of the season and he remembers having to ask his parents to bail him out – the first of many.

Davies’ other notable clubs include: Oxford United, Crawley Town and Wycombe Wanderers.

“I was a young lad in a new environment and I had a great year in terms of football so I did try to play it off to an extent but because of the sheer amount of debt they made me promise I wouldn’t find myself in that sort of situation again.

“It’s the thing that upsets me most looking back, the amount I lied to my parents.”

As time went on and Davies’ career begun to fall down the football pyramid, the addiction and the turnover of money spiralled out of control.

“I didn’t really see what I was doing wrong because I was lower than low at the time, my self-esteem was at rock bottom and I just didn’t care. To be honest it got the point where I was betting on matches hoping I would get caught.”

Betting away the majority of his wages became a regular occurrence and he even placed bets in games he would play in – illegal under rules by the FA.

Davies knew deep down he had to stop but his mental health had deteriorated so much so that in his head he thought if he was caught wagering illegally on his own games, that would force him to stop.

The realisation, that “the only person who could make myself stop was myself” sunk in and Davies began to consider seeking help.

“I had to truly admit I had a problem but ask anybody… admittance is the hardest part.”

A pivotal moment came on 8 June 2015 when his mum stood and watched him from outside the bookmakers in the middle of the day and “simply broke down cried in the street without any words”.

This acted as the catalyst needed to seek help and through rehabilitation at the Sporting Chance Clinic, with the support of the PFA, he declares that the hasn’t had a bet since.

Throughout his troubles, there were support systems in place for problem gambling but public awareness of problem gambling as a disease and mental health issue was limited.

Sporting Chance, the rehab clinic he eventually ended up admitting himself into in 2015, was founded in 2000 but at the time Davies said he “wasn’t truly aware of what they did and how they could help.”

To admit the addiction, complete rehab and come out a better person is the “biggest achievement” of his life and, despite early scepticism, Davies owes much of his positive mental attitude to being “a real purpose” in helping raise awareness for problem gambling.

Following his release from treatment, Davies became a regular public speaker for Sporting Chance with audiences from youth teams and first teams to conferences, which is where he met Paul Buck and eventually joined his team.

With the first of the five year partnership coming to an end, Davies is pleased so far about his journey with EPIC; all the events have been “very responsive” but he feels much can still be done to help prevent problem gambling.

“I believe banks could do more. I’d like them to pose a question about consistent betting or gambling transactions and their relative spending habits. Everyone has a duty of care to help each other.”

Scott Davies and Paul Buck will be discussing the topic of educating the professionals at this week’s Betting on Football conference.

Along with CCO at the EFL, Ben Wright, and director of external affairs for Sky Betting & Gaming, Adam Brickell, the four will address how each of their companies work to support the issues surrounding problem gambling and integrity with professional sports people.

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