Ex-problem gambler from Edinburgh shares story to stop others from following in his footsteps

A father of three has bravely opened up about his battles with problem gambling in an attempt to stop others from following in his footsteps.

Friday, 29th January 2021, 8:26 am
Ronald Mckellar, 34, and son Devin, 3.

Ronald Mckellar, 34, is several years into recovery thanks to support from his loving wife Sammy, as well as from friends and Gamblers Anonymous.

The former gambler narrowly avoided prison after attempting to make up for losses by robbing a corner shop right before Christmas.

Like many, the problem started as a young boy, being introduced to punting by picking the odd horse for the Grand National with his father and taking part in games of pitch and toss at school.

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Dylan 15, Demi 12 and Devin 3.

He said: “My first memories of gambling would be of my dad and his weekend football coupon. He'd always ask me to pick a team to win and we would always get to pick a horse for the grand national as well.

“At school we’d play pitchy at break time but I never really thought anything of it. I certainly did not see it as problem gambling.”

It was not until he started working in a casino that Ronald even thought about gambling as a serious problem.

He said: “I realised it was becoming an issue when I was leaving two hours early for work just so I could go to the bookies. If I was winning I'd be late for work and if I had lost my money I'd no doubt be early and in a bad mood. When I was out for a drink with mates I started to disappear to the bookies.

Ronald with Dylan after winning a cup with Bernards AFC

“Working in the casino only had a negative effect on me, strange thing is, you only ever noticed the guys that were winning. You would see them winning and think I could do that.

At the start he would lose £10- £20 a day - something he said was easy to recover from at the end of the week.

But things started to become more serious and towards the end he would be collecting his wages which could be lost within half an hour of picking them up, losing up to £400- £500 a week.

He said: “I was always determined that the next time would be different and that I would win, it was delusional.

“I had a major problem with gambling and managed to hide it well from 2005 to 2008 when we had just secured our first home and had our first child, Dylan.

“But in 2012 it all began to become real. I became a father of two when my daughter Demi was born and I was soon to become a husband to the lassie I fell in love with at high school. Job complete you’d have thought. But even as my daughter was being born I left the hospital to go collect her car seat and pram and ended up in the bookies.

“I was given £200 to get some things for our honeymoon but of course - they were never bought. My wife was never really fully aware until I took my most serious turn. The problem with being a compulsive gambler is you are also a compulsive liar.”

At Christmas in 2012, Ronald, who grew up in North Edinburgh, ended up in the cells having left himself desperate and not wanting to return home empty handed to his family.

He added: “Around the beginning of December I had been working constantly for a few weeks and collected my wages. I don’t even think I had opened the envelope by the time I was standing at a roulette machine. Needless to say all my money was gone within half an hour.

“Having phoned a few friends and begged for a lend of money to no avail, I knew I couldn’t go home to Sammy and the kids with nothing right before Christmas. In my head I had no other option, so I parked up a few streets away from the corner shop where I intended to rob the cashier.

“I threatened the guy behind the counter but he was able to fight me off. Less than a week later the police were at my door and I was in the cells.”

It was around this time that Sammy found out the full extent of Ronald’s gambling and she reached out to Gamblers Anonymous – a move that saved her husband from prison and also began his long road to recovery.

Ronald said: “If it wasn’t for Gamblers Anonymous I wouldn’t be here today. From the first time I walked through the door I was made to feel welcome and that I wasn’t alone. Speaking to people with the same problem as you was refreshing as they understood where you were coming from.

“I think it's very important for men to speak about their feelings and their problems. I always remember someone telling me that there is no lonelier place than your own head with your own thoughts. If you open up about it there will always be someone willing to listen.

“Gambling is so accessible, you don’t have to leave your home nowadays as it's on your phone, tablet and advertised constantly.

“I'd tell anyone who thinks they have a problem to speak to someone, as the first step to admitting you have a problem is acceptance, and if that leads you to Gamblers Anonymous then have an open mind.”

Ronald has thanked all of those who supported him through his journey and in 2017 at the birth of his third child, Devin, he vowed that his children would not have a gambler as a father.

Ronald and Sammy now live in West Calder with their three children Dylan 15, Demi 12 and Devin three.

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