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West Norfolk campaigner steps out in football betting ban call

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A recovering gambling addict from West Norfolk is leading calls for tighter rules on betting links with sport.

James Grimes, who grew up in Downham, estimates he lost around £100,000 because of his gambling activity, which mostly focused on football.

But, two years ago, he founded the Big Step campaign, which is calling for a total ban on betting advertising and sponsorship in the game.

James Grimes with Labour MP Hilary Benn (45059040)
James Grimes with Labour MP Hilary Benn (45059040)

And, at the weekend, he was among more than 300 people to take part in a remote walk covering a total of 1,137 miles.

That is the equivalent distance of travelling to every Premier League, Championship and Scottish Premiership club that has a gambling sponsor or partner.

At present, 34 out of the 44 clubs in the Premier League and Championship, including Norwich City, have gambling partners or sponsors. The English Football League also has a betting company as its title sponsor.

James said the campaign wants to end what he described as the “harmful relationship” between gambling and football.

A review of the current laws on gambling is ongoing and it has been reported that the government is considering a ban on betting advertising on sports shirts.

England’s most capped male footballer, Peter Shilton, who is one of many celebrities and politicians to back the Big Step campaign, has led calls for such a measure.

But James believes it won’t be enough on its own, saying: “If it’s still on TV, it’s still dangerous.”

And, nearly three years after his last bet, he says the extent of the links between the two sectors, including advertising during television coverage, still creates challenges for him and others who have endured similar experiences.

“Sometimes I do turn it off”, he said. “I know of stories where people have relapsed from that.”

The Betting and Gaming Council, which represents most of the industry, says a study by the Gambling Commission has indicated the level of problem gambling dropped last year

It says measures such as affordability checks, deposit limits and increased regulation are addressing the problem and has urged the government not to adopt measures such as maximum stake limits.

But James says he was never given an affordability check while he was gambling and he fears that the coronavirus pandemic has made the situation for current problem gamblers even worse.

The charity Gambling With Lives says research indicates that at least one problem gambler takes their own life in the UK every day.

And, with nearly 8,000 signatures now on an online petition in support of banning betting advertising in football, he believes the message is gathering momentum.

Speaking ahead of the weekend, in which he walked to the home grounds of both Manchester City and Manchester United, he said: “I think the game is up.”

The petition can be found via change.org under the heading End gambling advertising and sponsorship in football.

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