WORKING at a bookmaker's turned a man into a gambling addict and a thief, a court heard.

Damien Matthew James Cammidge, 27, a former cashier, used customers' bets to fund his own gambling at William Hill's central Acomb branch, York magistrates were told.

In six months, he stole £2,808 that should have gone into the till.

His solicitor, Mark Thompson, said: "He was doing this because he was gripped by what had become a very entrenched addiction."

He alleged that William Hill bosses would phone the branch with tips and encourage low-paid Cammidge to use his own money to make bets.

Cammidge got the gambling bug so much he would spend his days off watching the racing at home and making phone bets or sitting in his workplace betting.

"We feel these offences are so serious a non-custodial sentence cannot be justified," said senior magistrate Maggie Bond.

"The offending was over a period of some months, there were over 20 instances of dishonesty, they were high value involving thousands of pounds, you were in a position of trust, they were premeditated, the amounts increased in amount and frequency and there was a degree of sophistication about it."

She and her colleagues jailed Cammidge for eight months.

Cammidge, of Cranfield Place, Foxwood, pleaded guilty to six offences of theft and asked for 19 more to be taken into consideration.

His fiance broke down crying in the public gallery as he was taken to the cells. Mr Thompson said they had a big family wedding planned for June in Rhodes, Greece.

Mrs Darwin said Cammidge altered the electronic record of customers' bets and pocketed the difference. But the bookmaker's internal security checks revealed his fraud. The thefts started on New Year's Day 2006 with £9 and rose to £250 in one theft on July 20.

Mr Thompson said Cammidge was paid £8,500 a year and was frequently required to work 50 to 60 hours a week. Company training courses introduced him to legal ways of getting the most out of betting and staff were encouraged to make extra money by betting.

"He very quickly got himself a gambling addiction," said Mr Thompson.

He kept his problem a secrret, but it got him deeper and deeper into trouble. The thefts were his first. He had held jobs before and since involving money without the slightest hint of impropriety.

A spokeswoman for William Hill said: "William Hill absolutely refutes the suggestion that staff are encouraged to gamble, in fact staff are specifically prohibited from betting with the company through any of its channels and any employee doing so would face disciplinary action.

"We have in place a strong code of social responsibility towards both our staff and customers, developed with Gamcare, a registered charity offering advice, practical help and promoting a responsible approach to gambling. Our staff training courses comprehensively include information about both social responsibility and Gamcare and all this information is also freely available in every William Hill shop."