A boy aged 13 went on an £80,000 crime spree to fund a gambling addiction.
The youngster, who got hooked after seeing adverts for betting websites at a football match, committed credit card fraud for a year.
He blew £60,000 in a week-long online betting binge which left his parents horrified.
Today the lad – whose identity we are protecting – talks about his addiction as new Government figures reveal he is one of 25,000 children aged 11-16 who are hooked on gambling.
The schoolboy started betting online after going with his company director dad to Wembley, where he saw adverts for online bookies on screens and on boards around the pitch.
He took pictures of his dad’s business credit cards on his smartphone and set up an account online under his parent’s identity.
Within days he was hooked, getting a massive high from his wins – but placing bigger and bigger bets.
He was staking as much as £3,000 at a time and placing hundreds of bets a week.
The boy, from Lancashire, said: “I had no idea that gambling could be an addiction like smoking, drinking or drugs. It seemed like fun and I thought I would make money too.
“It was just far too easy. I just had to put in dad’s name, address, date of birth and card details and checked a box saying I was 18 – it took literally seconds to register and start gambling.”
His spiralling losses were discovered six months later when his father got a call from the bank questioning transactions and money missing from the account.
By this time, the lad had already accumulated losses in excess of £20,000.
Confronted by his parents, he instantly confessed.
Following psychotherapy, his parents assumed their son had learned his lesson.
But several months later he went on a week-long gambling binge using the same card details, this time building up debts of a further £60,000.
Now the parents say they can never trust their son again as they are crippled by loans they were forced to take out to pay debts.
Their son still only 15, said: “I am sorry for what I have done. I feel like I’ve ruined everything and our lives will never be the same again.”
He spoke out with the agreement of his parents who want to warn other families about the dangers of online gambling – at any age.
He said: “I remember being at Wembley seeing all those adverts, hearing guys around me bragging how much money they’d won and figured I’d give it a go. It seemed fun and easy.
“I knew dad’s business was doing well and thought he’d be less likely to spot that than money coming out of a personal account.”
His father’s groundworks firm had a turnover of over £30,000 a month and dozens of contractors so his betting went unnoticed at first.
He said: “I started off placing small £5 or £10 bets on football matches and horses, and had a few wins, which was a massive buzz. It felt like free money. I only regretted not placing bigger bets on my wins, ignoring my losses, and started going bigger and bigger.
“I was placing £100 bets, and then a few weeks later I was regularly betting £1,000 a day.
“By then I was down by several thousand pounds, and the only way I could think of getting it back was by more betting.
“I was spending around six hours a day betting or researching bets. I missed football training, I skipped homework. Betting was the only thing I could think about.”
When his father got the call from the bank and checked the statements, he and his wife knew straight away what was going on.
The 43-year-old company director said: “We were just so angry, not just at him, but also at ourselves for having been naive and trusting.
“We had been so preoccupied with our own lives we hadn’t noticed his school grades going down.”
The boy started weekly one-to-one sessions with psychotherapist Steve Pope along with weekly group sessions with other addicts.
But five months later he had a relapse. He found his dad’s wallet with a credit card and went on a week-long £60,000 gambling binge.
He said: “It was like this monster in my head calling me to go back.”
A week later his dad had another call from the bank saying the huge amount had gone. The father said: “I seriously thought our business and our house would be lost.
“We had to make a couple of redundancies. We couldn’t even tell those employees the real reason why this had happened. We felt simply terrible.”
The father says they will be paying back the loan for the foreseeable future.
He said: “We are lucky that we didn’t lose everything.
“Now other children might start stealing or securing loans to pay for their gambling addiction.
“It’s as bad as being a heroin addict – the lack of trust, the secrecy, the deceit, but without the obvious signs of drug addiction.”
Politicians are calling for betting companies to face the same advertising regulations as tobacco firms in a bid to stem the epidemic of child gamblers.
Earlier this week a cross-party group of MPs wrote an open letter to Culture Secretary Matthew Hancock insisting on a gambling ad ban during live sporting events and before the watershed.
They claim that an increasing number of gambling adverts are now being aimed at children.
The number of 16-year-olds hooked on gambling has risen by a third in the last three years, according to Government regulator the Gambling Commission.
Telltale signs of a child addict
How to spot signs your child is a problem gambler
Unexplained absences from school or classes
Sudden drop in grades or failure to complete assignments on time
Change of personality or behaviour
Exaggerated display of money or other material possessions
Unusual interest in newspapers/magazines/sports scores
Borrowing or stealing money
Withdrawing from family and friends
Uncharacteristically forgetting appointments or dates
Therapist warns of epidemic
The psychotherapist treating the schoolboy has warned that gambling is now causing more problems than street drugs among children.
Steve Pope said: “These kids get hooked and once they feel the buzz they can’t stop. It’s a silent epidemic and we’re all walking blindly into this without a clue as to the real scale of the problem.
“Gambling is just as damaging as cigarettes, or even more so because it’s openly advertised everywhere in such a fun, exciting way, but the long-term consequences are very, very real and disastrous.”
Steve added: “I’ve been working in addiction recovery for over 30 years, and I’m staggered at how many gambling addicts under the age of 20 are coming through my doors.”
Fruit machines are common introduction to gambling (Image: Getty Images)
Online lure of the betting companies
An estimated 370,000 children in Britain gamble each week, says a Government watchdog.
More than 250,000 do it through a licensed operator such as a bookmaker or casino, according to the Gambling Commission.
Fruit machines are the most common introduction to gambling for young people, at 24 per cent, followed by the National Lottery at 21 per cent.
But 11 per cent of children have taken part in skins betting, where online gamers can bet using in-game items, such as weapons or outfits which have real monetary value if traded.
Eighty per cent of children have seen gambling ads on TV, and 70 per cent are exposed to gambling through social media.
Overall, 430,000 people in the UK have a serious gambling problem, a 50 per cent increase in three years. The gambling industry won £13.8billion from British gamblers last year.