Gambling addict who lost everything rebuilds his life

Former Army major Justyn Larcombe told BBC News in July 2013 he had gambled £750,000 and his life was in ruins. Now he says he has turned his life around and is campaigning to help others with gambling addictions.

When I first met Mr Larcombe in a park in Tunbridge Wells, he revealed to me how his wife had left him with their two sons, he had lost his six-figure salary City job, he was £70,000 debt and he had been forced to return to his mother in Kent, carrying just a bin bag of clothes.

His spiral downwards had begun with a small bet placed online in 2009 during a rugby match, but soon the addiction was so strong it took over his life.

He started placing bets on all types of sites, sometimes as high as £5,000 on football games and even once losing £17,000 on a single tennis match.

Over three years, he gambled away his savings, the equity in his house, money his wife had given him to look after and then when all that was gone, he started using his company credit card. When his employers found out, they sacked him.

When his wife, Emma, discovered the extent of what he had done in the autumn of 2012, she left him with their two young sons and – on the day before he was due to be evicted and made homeless – his 70-year-old mother travelled to Derbyshire and brought him back to Tonbridge where he had grown up.

Now, 12 months on from our first meeting, the 45-year-old’s life looks very different.

“This time last year, really, I had nothing, I had no self-respect, I had no money, I had hardly had any income, I had £70,000 worth of debt and a little bin liner of old clothes and pictures to my name, that is all I had,” says Mr Larcombe.

Since he went public with his battle against addiction, media coverage helped to raise his profile as a gambling awareness campaigner.

“That changed my life dramatically, when the first interview came out,” he said.

“I was looking for recovery and what it enabled me to do, as I put my head above the parapet, was to reach out and get in touch with other people in a similar situation to me.

“It is almost as if my story has resonated with lots of people in many different ways, not only problem gamblers, but also the families of people who suffered this horrible addiction.”

In January he started running a recovery course at Tonbridge Baptist Church course for people with all kinds of addictions and also found some freelance work back in the City.

He has now paid off his debts and his family is back together and living in Shipbourne.

He has also become the chairman of a newly-formed gambling awareness charity called Rethink Gambling.

The book of his story is being published this week and he is due to swim the channel in August for charity Hemi Help, which aids people with hemiplegia, a paralysis condition one of his sons has.

Rethink Gambling was created when he got together with three other recovering gamblers.

The organisation has three direct aims.

“One is to see compulsory education in schools about gambling addiction,” says Mr Larcombe, who has a 13-year-old son from a former marriage.

“We would also like to see research funded independently into the gambling industry; at the moment it is primarily funded by the gambling industry.

“We would also like to see gambling moved from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, where it is almost endorsed as some form of entertainment, and move into the Department of Health.

“Then that 1% or 1.5% of people who have a real problem and all the mental health issues and the depression and the potential suicides can be dealt with properly.”

Something else Mr Larcombe wants to see implemented is a one-stop exclusion method so online gamblers who think they have a problem can exclude themselves from all the 2,500 online gambling websites in one go, a measure which he says would have saved his marriage.

His wife says he has changed a lot in the past 12 months.

“I think it is very unusual for someone to be in such a desperate situation to be able to turn it around, pay back his debts, become present in his life when in the middle of his addiction he wasn’t present,” she said.

“I think he is doing an awful lot for an awful lot of people and I think that is admirable.

“He is without doubt a different person to the person I married, I think he is a better person, I think he is using his energy to help other people and for good purpose.”

Mr Larcombe is keen for people to know he is not anti-gambling.

“My heart is to find protection measures for problem gamblers to reduce the temptation and the danger that people have,” he said.

In a statement, the Remote Gambling Association said it was an independent charity funded by donations from the gambling industry.

It said it funded the education, prevention and treatment services and commissioned research to broaden public understanding of gambling-related harm.

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport statement said it was completely committed to ensuring that the gambling industry “puts player protection and social responsibility at the heart of their business”.