Mark King’s gambling addiction had briefly got the better of him.
The Essex snooker pro was in a Bulgarian casino in 2012 and his guilty chip was going into overdrive. His body then joined his mind in ganging up on him.
“I only spent about £30, but I was in there sweating because I knew I was doing wrong,” King told BBC Sport a few days after winning the Northern Ireland Open, the first ranking title of his 25-year career.
“The reason I lapsed that time was because I stopped going to my Gamblers Anonymous meetings for six months.”
Gamblers Anonymous was and remains King’s salvation. The 42-year-old first went in 1998, but it was five years later that he started going “seriously” – as he puts it. And he has barely looked back since.
“I have had three or four lapses, but it’s been silly things like putting a pound in the fruit machine,” he said.
The experience in Bulgaria taught him “a massive lesson”.
“I know if I want to carry on not gambling, I have to go to my meetings,” added King.
At the height of his addiction, King was betting on all sorts – horses, dogs, card games, it did not matter. His addiction was all-encompassing and it would not be tiny sums either – he could and did lose thousands of pounds in minutes.
He once sold a snooker table for £1,000 and blew the money immediately. And he would chase his losses with disastrous effect. That was why he realised the man staring back at him in the mirror needed to change.
King’s marriage to Sally was also becoming increasingly strained and he even considered stealing to get his gambling fix.
The financial cost of his addiction is hard to estimate and King does not really want to think about how bad it actually is, but he did say it could be around the £200,000 mark. Money, however, is just one part of the story.
The Romford-born potter explained: “It gets to the stage where you can either stay compulsive gambling, losing all your money, lying to your wife, not treating her very nicely, going out when you are not supposed to and arguing over nothing because you want to go and gamble.
“Or you think, ‘do I really want this life? I have a decent life playing snooker, do I want to waste my life and be a no one?’”
Thirteen years after starting his recovery, King’s victory in Belfast on Sunday was all the sweeter considering the journey he has been on. It was also a magnificent moment in his career – for a multitude of reasons.
The world number 35 was “skint”. His 83-year-old dad Bill paid his tournament entry fee, and he had to borrow money for the hotel, travel and expenses from one of his best mates. The £70,000 prize money was more than handy.
“We had a big hug and a few tears when I saw my dad,” said King, who now lives in Braintree.
“He said all he wanted was to see me win [a ranking title]. I just wanted that one thing for him to see before he eventually passes away. To know that he has seen it is amazing for me.”
But having his wife and three children present in Belfast was even better than the victory itself.
“The winning is fantastic but the bit where I potted game-ball and they come over and we all hugged and kissed, that was it – that was the actual dream,” said King, who has also twice been a ranking event runner-up.
“No matter what happens in our lives now we have got those memories in the bank. I hope there is more to come. The first few minutes after I had won still send shivers down me. It was awesome.”
The former top-16 player exited this year’s UK Championship after a 6-2 loss to Sam Cragie on Wednesday, including a docked frame for forgetting his cue after the mid-session interval.
But King feels his game is as consistent as it has been in years and wants to use his recent success as a starting point to get back near his best ranking of 11, which came in 2002.
His approach is all about looking to the future, but the past and a few stark warnings do serve a purpose.
“It’s hard when you are doing well and see players who have earned the same money as you and have paid off their mortgage,” explained King.
“But the good thing about GA is that you can’t look back. I can’t get money or time back but I have not missed out on any of my kids’ stuff and they have never seen me gamble.
“New people come in, which in a horrible way is nice for us because it reminds us of the pain – it reminds us how bad it can be and keeps you on your toes.”
He said gambling was simply “a horrible way of life”.
“When you are a compulsive gambler, you are not your true self; you are horrible, you lie, you steal off your own children. You do anything to try to get money,” added King.
“The last 13 years my life has been good. Financially it hasn’t but the love me and wife and my children have got together as a family is amazing and I could easily throw that all away.
“So that is why Wednesday is GA day every time.”
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