Sinn Féin’s Philip McGuigan Lost £100,000 Gambling

  • Sinn Féin member of Ballymoney Borough Council spoke to BBC NI about his gambling habit
  • Online poker addiction resulted in him losing over £100,000 ($130,000) over eight years
  • Remortgaged his home because he often struggled to feed his family and fuel the car
  • Recovering addict has called for Northern Ireland's gambling laws to be changed
gambler with empty wallet
Sinn Féin member Philip McGuigan opened up about how gambling almost destroyed his life in a segment on BBC Northern Ireland’s The View. [Image:]

Addiction almost destroyed his life

Sinn Féin’s Philip McGuigan has spoken about how his struggle with gambling resulted in him losing £100,000 ($130,000) over eight years.

Speaking to The View on BBC Northern Ireland, McGuigan spoke publicly about his gambling addiction for the first time. The North Antrim MLA used the opportunity to call for changes to be made to Northern Ireland’s gambling laws.

He wants other vulnerable people to be protected from suffering the same issues. During the segment, McGuigan admitted:

I am a recovering compulsive gambler.”

As well as the monetary losses, McGuigan outlined how his addiction changed him as a person and had a massive impact on his family. 

Not your typical gambler

McGuigan is different from a lot of people in Great Britain and Ireland today who suffer from problem gambling. He never went into a bookmakers and rarely placed sports bets. His vice was online poker.

He went on to reflect on how things got so bad that the family did not have enough money to buy food or fuel for the car. He also admitted that mortgage repayments couldn’t be met on several occassions. He said his gambling addiction ended up ruining numerous birthdays and Christmases.

McGuigan was able to sustain his gambling addiction through remortgaging his home, taking out bank loans, and racking up massive credit card bills. He says he will have to repay money for the remainder of his life. 

Downward spiral

The politician had access to online poker all day and night, so there was no getting away from it. He would only stop playing when he had lost all of his money.

All sorts of devices were used to play online poker, from a desktop computer to tablets and smartphones. Access was available anywhere there was an internet connection. At certain stages, McGuigan would gamble for 48 hours continuously until the funds dried up.

Speaking about the effect this had on him, McGuigan said: “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.”

Road to recovery

The politician had given up on life, but his friends and family did not give up on him. He finally started to confront his addiction after entering the White Oak Addiction Treatment Center in Donegal. This led to McGuigan learning how to combat his addiction and to take control over it. 

started to confront his addiction after entering the White Oak Addiction Treatment Center in Donegal

He is taking recovery one day at a time and emphasizes that he will always be a recovering compulsive gambler.

To limit the chances of relapsing, he does not carry cash or have a card that can be used to deposit funds online. He also has special software on his various devices that prevents him from accessing gambling platforms. 

Calls for legislative updates

A recent study showed that as many as 40,000 people in Northern Ireland are problem gamblers, with the total population being about 1.8 million people. Per head, this is the highest rate in the UK.

Northern Ireland’s current gambling legislation dates back to 1985. With the significant changes that online gambling has brought to the gambling sector, this legislation needs updating. 

Many in the gambling industry were calling for betting shops to open on Sundays in Northern Ireland. While this is common in the Republic of Ireland, it is not currently the case in the north. 

McGuigan has called for an independent regulator to be put in place for the gambling industry. This person could then ensure that problem gamblers can get the help that they need.

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