GBG In conversation with Lee Willows

Rebekah Jackson talks with Lee Willows, CEO of Young Gamers & Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM). They discuss how Lee's former addiction to gambling drove him to set up the charity to help educate young people about problematic gaming and gambling.


Rebekah Jackson, GBG:

Hi, I'm here with Lee willows, the CEO of y gam. Please join me today to have a chat around responsible gaming. I'm Rebekah Jackson, and I am one of gbg gaming experts. Thanks, Lee, for joining me today.

Lee Willows, Young Gamers & Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM)

My pleasure, Rebekah, thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to come and share my experience.

RJ: Yeah, it's great to have you on board. And I'm excited to learn a lot more about why GM and the charity, could you tell us a bit more about your background may?

LW: Yeah, it's been an incredibly humbling five years. Rebekah, as some of your listeners may know, but I'm the founder and chief executive of a fantastic charity called the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust, or we actually call ourselves YGAM. We are a UK registered charity with a social purpose to inform, educate and safeguard young people. Against problem gambling and problem gaming.

RJ: So, you touched just then on education, making sure that people are aware of, I guess how much funds they're spending and spending within their means. There's obviously a lot in the regulation coming up, with affordability being a hot topic in the gambling industry at the minute. How do you personally think that affordability checks will help to protect vulnerable people?

LW: So some of your listeners may also know that I'm actually a former gambling addict as well. So I've been a tutor for 25 years and in my late 30s, I developed an addiction myself to gambling that addiction was to machines in casinos say it was the be one machines I didn't gamble online, didn't go to betting shops or anything like that.

And over the space Rebekah of about probably about two and a half years… I’m a relatively sensible person, a person who moved from North originally, my dad went down that pit. So we've got really northern values as a family, one of those values, as you know, make sure you save your money, son, as you grow older, and make sure you really protect that money and safeguard it.

What gambling did for me, it led me to a journey, whereby actually I spent all of my savings because I had a clean credit record. I could then take them unsecured loans, had a number of unsecured loans from all the major banks. And then when all of that money went out, then I turned to payday loans, which is, again, it's absolutely irrational. But at the time of in my addiction, it was completely rational, because I needed the money to gamble. So I had a number of payday loans and all of that money went on gambling as well.

And then it actually ended up taking money from my previous employer, which was a particularly low point. And when that happened, yeah, as your listeners will probably know, it then led for me to contemplate suicide, there's a whole range of things fell out from that. And I ended up telling my, my former employer what had happened to her mom and dad. So the whole bloom went up in the family. And that was very much the catalyst to establish the charity.

But just going back to your point about affordability, and it's really interesting, and I don't necessarily blame anybody else other than myself for the trouble I got myself into. But I was able to take on multiple loans from multiple operate from multiple financial providers to continue to gamble. So I think anything around anything around that one is safe to put safeguards in for me as a potential vulnerable customer. By the credit reference agencies by operators like yourselves to actually stop me getting additional funds.

And then number two, even flagging a patch down which money that I am spending, because with gambling transactions as we know, often particularly casinos, you're dealing with slips of paper to actually dealing with real currency per se. So I will save it back to the whole concept of money. The whole value and notion of money completely, completely escaped me really. So I think vulnerable safeguarding measures to protect the vulnerable safeguarding measures to help people understand the amount of money that they're spending is really important because gambling, you know, should be a leisure pastime activity, which is for the majority of people, but there are some people who unfortunately, can't control the gambling and I was one of those customers.

There's so much emphasis on safer gambling within the industry at the moment as well. And sort of five years ago, if I look back five years ago, you know, it wasn't really talked about it didn't really have the prevalence or the or the prominence rather than is gone now with industry. And I think, you know, we aren't regulatory experts at all, we do not know how to run gambling businesses at all. But what we can do is perhaps bring a different, different insight to this whole space. And hopefully, through that insight, I think you'll find that many former addicts, or experts by experience, as we've been sort of labelled now do want to help and there is a shared goal there to make gambling safer. And things like you know, coastal vulnerability, affordability checks, all those things are really important.

RJ: So how do you feel that affordability checks will help to protect vulnerable players?

LW: Yes, I think I think they're really important and it's probably two things I'd say. So first of all, it helps to safeguard spending. So if I Customer with any particular operator, making sure that you know my source of wealth and enables me to, to participate in gambling, but also raises flags if you can see them overspending, for example, if I'm a teacher, and I'm earning £32,000 a year, but I'm actually spending significantly more than that, that absolutely should raise a red flag to that particular operator and then hopefully lead for an intervention with that customer.

And then I think Secondly, there is something around you know, a marker of harm is when a GM was in a customer or in my case again being added, we take on multiple debt, so we take on multiple loans, or multiple payday loans. So again, it helps the operator to see where I am taking out additional loans for spending. So again, it comes back to safeguarding Mark spending as a customer?

RJ:  And I think just touching on, obviously you've mentioned about the great work your workshops do. I've personally attended a workshop I attended in Leeds with one of your trainers. And there was lots of different teachers there from different schools talking about and the experience that they've had with our students, but actually within the workshop that I attended, and what was quite heartening to me was I was sat next to a problem gambler who was going through still going through the stages of overcoming his addiction, but he very openly shared really personal experiences about running up debt and how it actually affected his family as well. And I think that this whole affordability piece, and people sort of borrowing whether it's from a credit card borrowing from a family member, and not personally having the income to sustain the habit, if we can make awareness to operate It says earlier on that, and whether that comes through education, data, Leiden, whatever it may be, I think that that's that's sort of really, really key for helping people within the industry.

LW: Yeah, no, it is really, I think, I think having an opportunity as GBG does to work across multiple operators. So there is the gambling commission are all sort of asking operators to consider a single customer view. And that is that is really important because, again, if one operator said to me lately, you know, you can't come to anymore, you know, should go to another site, then if I'm a problem Gambler, I would then just transfer over to another site. So having a single customer point of view, and having a consistent onboarding process from operators. I think ultimately, it's going to be good for customer protection.

RJ: Thanks so much for joining us today. It's been a real pleasure speaking with you and understanding more about your experiences. I'm really excited to see what the future holds for white gum and hopefully we'll catch up soon.

LW: Thanks Rebekah. I’m pleased to be here.

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