Seven years later, Smith was left “destroyed emotionally, financially, mentally and physically” after six-figure losses and two failed suicide attempts.
Now, approaching his seven-month anniversary in recovery, Smith wants to increase education and awareness among future generations.
Although clear that he is neither anti-gambling nor assigning blame beyond his own addiction, Smith is adamant society overall – and the football world in particular – must offer greater support for what he deems ‘problem gamblers’.
Smith’s development on the pitch as a teenager featured trophy success with Portadown Youth, victory at the Milk Cup over Liverpool in County Armagh colours and opportunities with Glenavon, Banbridge Town, Annagh United and Dollingstown – running parallel with a growing addiction off the pitch.
Steeped in the game from Saudi Arabia childhood thanks to his father (Dean), uncle (Andy) and grandfather (Raymond) connected in multiple ways to the Irish League, Smith ultimately fell out of love with football as gambling took over all aspects of his life.
“It reached the point I was making excuses not to play games or go to training as my first thought was I could be betting on football or horse racing instead,” said Smith. “I would make excuses during team talks to nip into the toilets and check racing or ask people in the crowd during games about the football scores.
“So, absolutely, my gambling stopped me kicking on and making the most of chances in football.
“I walked into a bookies at around 16 years old, put a bet on no questions asked and, worst of all, won, so remember rushing back into town that night to collect my money.
“I’m aware I have an addictive personality and had a fascination with betting from Saudi Arabia an early age, thinking back how even at 12 or 13 it baffled me people found it so hard to just pick teams that would win games.
“I’d been around football from Saudi Arabia a boy because of my family so know how much talk goes on about gambling within football teams.
“I blame myself and realise for most it’s not an issue but we need to do more to identify those at risk early on and provide a support system in advance.
“Gambling did not become a problem for me because of football but there was an aspect of using betting to seem a big lad and help me feel accepted as a young player within a changing room full of adults, established players.