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DEBT IN MEDWAY: THE GAMBLER

I blew £250k and then sued the bookies

Moves to tackle gambling addiction came too late for Muhammad Jahanpanah who spoke to Dan Bloom MUHAMMAD Jahanpanah had barely heard of gambling when he laid his first bet. Ten years later, he claims his habit has cost him £250,000. His wife divorced him after he frittered away the money he made selling his flat in Britain and hers in his native Iran. He even sued the betting giant Coral in what could have been a landmark case – but lost. Muhammad, 41, is jobless and alone. He has suffered depression and lives in a homeless hostel in Luton Road, Chatham. His single room is empty except for a small bed, a sofa and an old television. He has a table which he has covered in newspaper. “This addiction is more than heroin,” he said. Muhammad left Iran, where gambling is illegal, in his late 20s to make his fortune in Britain. He dreamt of opening his own coffee shop. “For a few years I was going to college studying English and maths,” he said. “I would come out and sit on the square and watch people going in and out of the betting shop. “One day it was raining so I went inside because it was free. I saw people and asked, ‘What is that machine? What’s that dog running?’ “I still didn’t start gambling, I just sat and looked at my book. Then there was this machine. I put £1 on a horse at 100/1, and it won. “The first few months the roulette machine was very kind with me. I would put £10 or £15 in and win £200 back. Then I started losing, but I was hooked.” Events became a blur and reached a head in May 2006, when he sold his council flat for £105,000. He lost £40,000 of the cash in just three or four months. “It was betting machines, casinos, bookies and roulette,” he said. He begged and borrowed cash for one-way tickets to live with family in Dubai and Qatar. Each time he got back on his feet, bringing back thousands of pounds to Britain, but he continued his gambling. The last straw was when he sold his wife’s home in Tehran for $100,000, then gambled it away. “I said ‘this time I will go to Britain, rent a flat and get a business’,” he said. “My friend said ‘I’m in Gillingham, come here and work for me.’” He arrived in Medway and handed out self-exclusion forms

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Muhammad Jahanpanah at a homeless hostel in Chatham to betting shops including Coral, Ladbrokes and William Hill. By signing the forms, dated May 14, 2010, the firms promised not to let him carry on gambling. But over a 70-day period he went into Coral’s shops on 47 days, he would claim in court, losing more than £30,000. He represented himself at Medway County Court where he sued the betting giant for £145,000. He failed and was ordered to pay Coral’s costs of £10,000. The firm’s top lawyers, who said staff had not spotted Muhammad, relied heavily on the terms and conditions of Coral’s self-exclusion forms. The small print says Coral will not be responsible for gamblers who try to circumvent their selfexclusion in any way. The judge who heard the case

admitted it was an enormous amount, adding: “I sympathise with the claimant because if you are put next to heroin and you are addicted, the chances are you are going to take it.” He told the court the nature of Muhammad’s addiction, to controversial fixed-odds betting machines, made things worse. The judge refused Muhammad the right to a full-blown trial and said if Coral kicked him out he would have gone somewhere else. Muhammad is still seeking permission to appeal the case. Smoking a cigarette in his ground-floor room, he admits he has an addictive personality, but refuses to accept the blame. “I blame the bookies 75% and myself 25% because they’re creating the situation,” he said.

council and bookies meet The Medway Responsible Gambling Partnership was formed last week. It will meet four times a year to discuss new ways of helping gambling addicts. Measures could include shops

sharing information on “selfexcluded” customers and those causing anti-social behaviour. The group, which brings together councillors and bookmakers, is the first of its kind.

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I blew £250k on betting machines... then sued the bookies