Jewish teenagers fall victim to gambling menace

Challenge: Ari Leaman

Challenge: Ari Leaman

Gambling now poses the biggest threat to Jewish teenagers - even more than drink and drug abuse.

The rise in the number of betting shops and online applications is blamed for a problem experts say is being ignored.

And, they add, smartphones have done much to encourage the bet-anywhere-anytime philosophy and help keep the problem hidden.

The issue is now seen as so great that the charity Drugsline plans to introduce help sessions for the community's youth.

Ari Leaman, who runs the Boys Clubhouse, a drop-in centre for young Jewish men with addictions, said gambling was now his leading challenge.

"I'm coming across it more than ever. I find it harder to deal with than any other addiction. It destroys a person's morale and honesty," he said.

"What's not kosher about gambling? That's the way they see it. Gambling is an escape and a buzz.

"The gambler gets caught up and before you know it he's down. He's lost £20 that he's borrowed. The only way to get it back is to steal from his mum. Then there's a bigger mess and he needs more money. He needs £200 to bail himself out."

Mr Leaman, whose centre is based in Hendon, north-west London, said young men were now "doing crazy stuff" to cover their betting debts. He noted an increase in Jewish youngsters attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings.

He added: "The kids I've met in the past 10 years who are likely to turn to crime are the gamblers. Stand in the centre of Hendon and count the number of betting shops you can see. They are on every corner."

Rabbi Dr Chanan Tomlin, executive director of the Salford-based Kids Trust, said gambling was "a significant problem and it's not getting any better".

He added: "You don't have rabbis speaking out against gambling. There is no awareness and there are no lectures on it. "

Rabbi Aryeh Sufrin, founder of addiction support group Drugsline, said: "There has been a major increase. It's always been a Jewish illness. There's a major difference now because of the accessibility. Gambling has come back to the forefront. "

He suggested teenagers taking GCSEs and A-Levels could turn to gambling to ease the stress.

Rabbi Julia Neuberger, former chair of the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, said: "Gambling is definitely a Jewish problem. A lot of the problem gamblers I met while in the role were Jewish."

A number of high profile criminal cases in the community have revolved around gambling debts.

They included three Jewish boys breaking into a synagogue to steal a car and a 30-year-old organising the burglary of a house because he owed an Israeli gang £30,000. A former JFS pupil took a rabbi to court following a row over gambling debts totalling more than £700,000.

Last updated: 4:59pm, June 12 2014