Gambling companies should refuse to take bets from “vulnerable” footballers because they are easy targets, says ex-Stoke winger Matthew Etherington.
The 35-year-old lost £1.5m at the height of his gambling addiction.
He sympathises with Burnley midfielder Joey Barton, who admitted suffering from the problem on Wednesday after being banned for 18 months for betting.
“Gambling companies need to recognise those that are vulnerable and don’t take bets from them,” Etherington said.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live, he added: “I was targeted. We had gambling companies come into the club and say ‘you can bet with us’.
“They knew we were young, a bit vulnerable, and had lots of money. Looking back, it was very irresponsible of them.”
Etherington retired in 2014 after a career that included spells with Peterborough, Tottenham and West Ham, as well as Stoke.
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‘The FA are trying to send out a message’
Between them, Barton and Etherington played almost 900 Premier League games
Former Manchester City and QPR midfielder Barton was fined £30,000 and warned about his future conduct after being charged with breaking FA rules for placing bets on matches between 26 March 2006 and 13 May 2016.
He admitted placing “over 15,000 bets across a whole range of sports” – of which 1,260 were on football – staking an average of £150 per bet.
Between 2004 and 2011, Barton said he placed several bets on his own team to lose but added he was not involved in the match-day squad in any of those instances.
“The length of the ban is quite harsh – I think his past has gone before him,” Etherington said.
“I think the FA are trying to send out a clear message to everyone that you can’t bet on football matches.
“Players know the rules – FA representatives let you know in no uncertain terms. They would come in at the start of every season and let you know.
“It is sad for Joey because it looks like it’s the end of his career. He’s got a problem and I hope he sorts it out.”
‘The betting company did Barton no favours’
Former Everton star Osman won two caps for England
Former Everton midfielder Leon Osman told BBC Radio 5 live that a gambling company blocked his account after he staked his first bet post-retirement.
The 35-year-old, who played more than 400 games for the Toffees, was released at the end of the 2015-16 season.
“The betting company has done Barton no favours,” said Osman. “They are more to blame than anybody because they’ve been accepting bets from him for 10 years.
“I had to phone up and explain that I am no longer playing, and suddenly they looked me through and released my account within six weeks of me having a bet.
“You’re not telling me that in 10 years they’ve not noticed that Joey Barton’s betting on football?”
‘Everyone needs to take more responsibility’
The availability of online gambling sources makes it easier for people to place bets
Etherington feels the gambling industry needs to be “regulated” and adverts should be less conspicuous on TV and radio.
Gambling company Ladbrokes is an FA partner and 10 Premier League clubs have betting firms as shirt sponsors.
“Everyone needs to take a little bit more responsibility – the PFA, the players, the FA and the gambling organisations themselves,” Etherington said.
“It’s very hard and complex. The PFA can do more going into the clubs, it’s just whether or not the players want to listen.
“[After training] I was so desperate to get away and place a bet you’re not paying full attention to your career. That’s the thing that I regret.”