MLA calls for change to Northern Ireland's gambling laws
A Sinn Fein MLA has revealed how a gambling addiction cost him over £100,000 and left him unable to buy food or necessities for his children.
North Antrim MLA Phillip McGuigan lost the money over a period of eight years, funding his gambling through bank loans, credit cards and remortgaging his house.
He made the admissions in an interview on BBC Northern Ireland's The View to be broadcast on Thursday evening.
Mr McGuigan has now appealed for a change to Northern Ireland's gambling laws to protect people from suffering a similar fate.
He told the BBC he would like to see an independent gambling regulator appointed to oversee the industry in Northern Ireland and to ensure there is help for problem gamblers.
The Sinn Fein MLA revealed he lost the money playing online poker, saying that he had never visited a bookmakers shop and had no interest in sports gambling.
The former Ballymoney councillor admitted he had lost hope before a stint in the White Oak Addiction Treatment Centre in Donegal.
"I am a recovering compulsive gambler," he said.
"In a period in my life, I lost huge sums of money, but more than that, it changed me as a person and had a huge impact on my family life.
"There were times, lots of times, when we had no money to buy food to eat, where my children had to go without necessities, where the mortgage wasn't paid and I wasn't able to fuel the car.
"I ruined many a Christmas and birthday because of my gambling."
Mr McGuigan first served as North Antrim MLA from 2003 to 2007 before standing down and being replaced by Daithi McKay.
He returned to the Assembly in 2016 after Mr McKay resigned.
"There's no closing time to online gambling, its 24 hours a day, seven days a week," the Sinn Fein MLA said.
"For someone like me, who is a compulsive gambler, the sad reality is the only time I stopped playing is when I lost money.
"I was able to gamble on a laptop, iPad, on my phone - I always had access. There were periods where I went 48 hours and did nothing but gamble non-stop. You would keep going until you run out of money."
He said that the gambling was out of character.
"In every other aspect of my life, I would say I'm strong willed, know the difference between right and wrong and see myself as a good person, but I had no power over gambling - once it started, it took control of me," he said.
"I had given up on life, thankfully my family and friends hadn't given up on me."
Mr McGuigan said he was continuing to battle the illness every day.
"I take this illness very, very seriously. My recovery is a day at a time. I will be a recovering compulsive gambler until the day I die," he said.
"I don't carry money, I don't have a cash card that can be used online, I had to download software to my phone which stops me from gambling."
CARE NI Policy Officer Mark Baillie said it was "exceptionally brave" of Mr McGuigan to speak so openly about his gambling addiction.
“Stories like his help to raise awareness about the harms problem gambling can cause, not only to individuals but to families and communities," he said.
“We also welcome his call for legislative action to be taken and now that the Executive is restored, reforming our outdated gambling laws should be a top priority.
“Hopefully the public consultation being run by the Department of Communities will lead to genuine root and branch reform of the law.
“Mr McGuigan’s own experience highlights the need for stronger protections, both online and offline and the need for a mandatory levy to ensure gambling companies are made to do their bit.”
Mr McGuigan's interview will be broadcast on BBC One Northern Ireland's The View on Thursday at 10.35pm.