Footballer Jamie Tomelty: My £100,000 gambling addiction cost me my Irish League career

Jamie Tomelty during his time with Portadown in the Irish League
Jamie Tomelty during his time with Portadown in the Irish League

Footballer Jamie Tomelty has opened up about the gambling addiction which he says ruined his career in the Irish League.

The 34-year-old Cookstown man – who now plays for intermediate club Coagh United having had spells with Linfield and Portadown – estimates he may have lost around £100,000 but managed to stay out of debt.

He told the News Letter: “I’ve been trying to quit for years, but I’ve only really quit for the last two or three weeks. This is just the start of the process, I’m taking it one day at a time. I’d tried to deal with it privately for a long time, I didn’t tell anyone about it for years. I just kept falling and falling.”

At the weekend he posted a picture on Facebook of him banning himself from William Hill bookmakers, which resulted in messages of support for going public about his addiction.

He explained: “I feel if I do this and all my friends and family and everyone knows, it puts pressure on me not to do it again. It’s a good pressure. Privately wasn’t working for me which is why I needed to go public.

“It’s scary putting it out there. It came to the point where I just don’t want to gamble any more and I felt for me personally this was the best way to do it.

“I wouldn’t be a shy, backward person, but at the minute my confidence isn’t overly high because I’ve put myself out there. I know in the long term it will strengthen me.

“I’m at a point in my life when I’m comfortable to talk about it. I want to raise awareness. Hopefully it will help someone else and hopefully it will help me too.”

Mr Tomelty said he had closed down his numerous online betting accounts two years ago but it was only in recent weeks that he had begun the process of requesting to be excluded from local bookmakers.

He said: “I want to buy a house. I should have had it bought long ago, but I never had the money because I was spending it in the bookies.

“I’d a very good career in the Irish League for eight years, but it’s all blurred, ruined because of the gambling. It sidetracked my career. I would have been a lot better if it wasn’t for the gambling.”

He explained how his gambling addiction began: “It started off as football bets. That was actually quite fun.

“I put £40 or £50 on a bet in 2008 and I won £4,800 and I didn’t know what to do with it.

“There was a small bet I did in 2012 and I won four or five grand and went to Australia. I lost half of it when I was there.”

He continued: “My biggest weakness would be FOBTs (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals) in the bookies. You can do a £100 spin every 15 seconds. You can lose £400 in a minute.

“I just couldn’t walk away from the machine. It’s not greed. I’m not sure if it’s a disease, but it’s definitely a serious addiction.

“I was completely oblivious I had a problem until two or three years ago.”

The former Linfield, Portadown, Dungannon and Coleraine player said: “I’ve always worked. I always had a job and then I played in the Irish League.

“In the eight years I played in the Irish League I probably would have made over £100,000 between the four clubs I played for. A ball park figure for the amount I’ve lost would probably be the same.

“It’s hard to put a figure on it because some days you win and others you lose.

“I’m maybe unique in terms of gambling that I’ve never been any debt in my life. I pay my bills on time. I have enough for food and petrol. All the money I’ve lost has been my own expenditure.”

He said that money aside he was also annoyed at the time he had wasted on gambling: “I look back and I’ve missed weddings and birthdays and nights out. I’m sick of it, I want to be free from it.”