FOR more than 10 years Owen Baily gambled away thousands of pounds.

He was left unemployed, homeless and developed a drink problem. At the age of 19, he lost £2,000 in one sitting at a roulette machine in a casino, which sent him into a downward spiral.

Now the 31-year-old, of Abingdon Road, South Oxford, has completed eight months of recovery and wants to use his experience to help others.

Mr Baily told the Oxford Mail: “My relationship with gambling began when I was very, very young. “I found it exhilarating when I became a teenager. I began to see gambling as a means of earning money.”

He then discovered casinos and said: “I had never seen anything like it before. I was taken in very, very quickly.

“I then discovered betting shops. I discovered I could just walk down to my local betting shop and play roulette.

“Being able to play roulette in my local bookmakers at the time was great.”

But he added: “I went into a self-destruct mode. I quit my home and I quit my job.”

Mr Baily eventually found himself homeless in Kent, when he turned to drink, before he sought help and therapy. He said: “The consequences of my gambling addiction took me to places where I became very desperate.

“I know only too well how much feeling desperate can influence one’s behaviour.

“For days, weeks and even months, I would be without money – with rent to pay and food to buy.

“It was a question of how to survive and when in this situation I often contemplated committing crimes in order to just get by. Very dark times. “Fortunately, I paradoxically feared losing my liberty and so this was enough of a deterrent for not committing higher level crimes.

“But I did find myself routinely checking phone boxes, car parking metres and shopping trolleys in the hope of finding enough change to get beans or bread or milk. These are just some of the survival skills I developed while homeless.”

Four years ago, Mr Baily went to rehab at the Ley Community in Yarnton for 20 months and he has not had a drink since October 1 last year or gambled since March 28 this year.

He said: “I have decided to turn round my experience and use it to help others, local organisations and individuals.”

Now he is backing a campaign to reduce stakes on gaming machines. To find out more about the campaign, visit Campaigners are asking the Government to reduce the stakes of touch-screen electronic gaming machines found in betting shops from £100 to £2.

At the moment, users can bet up to £100 a spin every 20 seconds on casino games and up to £2 a spin on slot games. Mr Baily estimates it is possible to lose up to £18,000 in a day on the machines. He took part in a demonstration about it at the House of Commons on Wednesday, December 4. Mr Baily now works at Marks & Spencer in Queen Street.

* For help with gambling addiction, call GamCare on 0808 8020133.