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Don't gamble on a happy Christmas

PUBLISHED: 09:46 18 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:58 03 July 2010

AS Christmas approaches, shoppers are keenly trawling the shops and internet in search of the perfect gift for a loved one.

In anticipation of the big day, many will have scurried their savings away for months beforehand so that a rare day with all the family will be as special as possible.

AS Christmas approaches, shoppers are keenly trawling the shops and internet in search of the perfect gift for a loved one.

In anticipation of the big day, many will have scurried their savings away for months beforehand so that a rare day with all the family will be as special as possible.

But for an increasing number who have lost everything through gambling addiction, this scene is just a fantasy, or a distant memory lost. It's thanks to the local branch of the Norcas service that those around Great Yarmouth facing such a winter are being offered a way out.

Established in Norwich over 30 years ago, Norcas was created to fight addiction of all kinds, and now has offices across Norfolk and Suffolk.

A team of 10 in Great Yarmouth, based in Regent Road, includes two gambling specific counsellors thanks to a collaboration with fellow charity, Gamcare. They deal specifically with problem gamblers, of which there are estimated to be over 300 in the Yarmouth area.

A former user of the service, who did not want to be named, had lost everything because of a gambling habit that lasted 30 years and culminated in him spending £1000 a week on slot machines, roulette and football.

Having lost his marriage and job, he went to Norcas, where he was offered one to one counselling, and has since not placed a bet in 14 months.

He said: “I think they have really helped me. I didn't know where my life was going and I was in complete despair. Once I faced up to the problem and admitted the gambling addiction it became easier. I've now got my self respect back and I can control my life as well as the addiction.”

There are signs that gambling is growing in the long term. From the early nineties to earlier this decade, 44pc more was spent in casinos in the UK, and there has been an 11.6pc growth in the sales of Camelot lottery tickets in the last five years.

Nick Secker, Norcas' area manager for Great Yarmouth and Waveney, had a few theories about why such addition was growing.

“It's a bit too early to say for sure but the current economic climate that is making life more stressful for people, and we live in an increasingly stressful world in which gambling can seem like a way out.

“There is often a stereotyped view of a gambler but it cuts across all sorts of professions. However, we don't take a moral approach-it's a clinical approach and we're about helping those with gambling addictions, not promoting abstinence to everyone.”

Sonya Farrell has been a gambling counsellor for four years and picks out fruit machines as among one of the most common forms of gambling in the area.

She added the one to one sessions are about getting people to accept that they have a problem and accept the impact it has on loved ones.

“The obsession is normally with the playing rather than the winning, and they become tunnel-visioned into that.

“My role is of counselling and working with every issue that they bring . All people are different and sometimes it's about pointing them in the right direction.

“It's a big step to come through the door, and it's scary to admit you've got an addiction, but it's more scary to cope with it alone.”

To contact Norcas in Yarmouth, call 01493 857 249.

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