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Card to cope Addict who used brother's identity to claim €15k in social welfare on why he set up gamblers anonymous group

He said a couple of prison staff members even asked him for gambling tips during the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.

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Norton claimed that gambling is openly done inside jail.

Norton claimed that gambling is openly done inside jail.

Norton claimed that gambling is openly done inside jail.

A gambling addict who committed frauds to feed his out of control habit said it had been left up to him to set up a Gamblers Anonymous group while serving time in prison.

Bernard Norton appeared in court last week after claiming €15,000 from social welfare using his brother's identity between 2013 and 2015.

He had already served a sentence for a €35,000 fraud at the company where he worked in 2016, and has previously been convicted for stealing over €200,000 from his employer GE Woodchester between 2001 and 2002.

Norton (49) of Kells, Co. Meath, said it was all down to his gambling addiction.

"That's what gambling does to you. You don't think about the consequences. I originally used gambling as escapism, my way of dealing with anything. The betting shop was the thing," he said.

The father of five explained that he had borrowed money from "the wrong people" to pay off the money he defrauded from Woodchester.

When the loan shark disappeared he couldn't make any repayments but they suddenly got back in touch more than 10 years later looking for their money. "Instead of talking to my parents, going to my family, I went back to my old ways.

"I thought the only way I can sort out this issue is by gambling, instead of turning to my family and saying this is what happened.

"I just kept it bottled up and tried to repay that way."

After getting a prison sentence in 2016 for the fraud at his then employer Bernard knew it had to be a turning point in his life so his sons won't follow in his footsteps.

"I said to myself 'would I pick myself out to be a role model for those four boys' and the answer was 'no'. Did I want my boys to have the late teenage or early adulthood I had? No. I knew I had to change.

"The help within the prison system is just shocking. I went to NA [Narcotics Anonymous] meetings in Wheatfield just so I could go to a meeting."

During the 2018 Cheltenham Festival he said a couple of prison staff members even asked him for gambling tips.

"I said 'if I was a drug addict would you be coming over asking me about cocaine?'

"It's very difficult to get across to people because you walk around as normal, it's not like you're off your head on drink or drugs.

"The thing for me in prison from the gambling side of things is it's openly done there. You can gamble on whatever you want to gamble on, you can play pool, you can play table tennis.

"There's Texas Hold'Em poker playing twice a day in the closed prison.

"We couldn't have a room for a GA meeting.

"I was asked 20 times a day if I wanted to play poker but I was never asked how I was feeling about the gambling stuff."

Later in an open prison members of GA in Sligo were let in and then Bernard and other prisoners ran or chaired the meetings themselves.

Bernard said he had previously stopped going to GA meetings thinking he was alright when in fact it was the start of getting back into what he called the "crazy cycle".

"Once you stop you are on a slippery slope," said Bernard, who didn't ask for or receive a fee for this interview.

He fears gambling addiction is a problem that's likely to get worse and it is too easy for kids to have an online gambling account.

And it's not just men who are affected, with women also struggling with the addiction, he added.

This week at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court Judge Melanie Greally said Norton was "a very hands-on father" due to his wife's work and took into account his remorse and his efforts to rehabilitate.

She sentenced Norton to two years imprisonment for the social welfare fraud, but suspended the sentence in full, on strict conditions including that he pay back the full sum within a two-year period.

  • Contact information for Gamblers Anonymous can be found at gamblersanonymous.ie or call 01 872 1133.

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