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Ex Gambler Story

Background

Jeff’s life was almost ruined by gambling. He volunteered to tell his story and his step by step recovery. He hopes his story will inspire others to seek help and get a fresh start.

The below story has not been edited by A1 Debt Assistance. Jeff is not the man’s name but the one we use here so as to protect his identity.

Jeff’s True Story:

I guess my fascination with gambling started at a pretty young age. My Dad always liked a punt. Every year he would enter us in the Melbourne Cup sweep at his work and I recall a few Cup days sitting in the back of the car waiting for him to emerge from the TAB having placed his own bets and the obligatory $1 each-way bet for my brother and I on the horse that we fancied. My mum and grandmother have always enjoyed a punt too, often traveling interstate to play the pokies (before the introduction of gaming venues in Victoria). They’d come home from a weekend away telling of all the fun and wins they had enjoyed. As kids, I guess we weren’t completely unaware of our family’s gambling habits.

Both my parents at one point or another smoked cigarettes. I used to love mimicking their behaviour believing I was an adult. They love a drink, too. As they were both passionate about their wine, they taught me to appreciate and respect alcohol. For whatever reason, I never learned the valuable lessons about gambling until much later.

When I was asked to put this piece together, I thought that I would be sharing with you a small snippet of my life but the reality is that I have been a gambler for my entire adult life. I’ve never known any different.

My gambling story started with the 2000 Melbourne Cup. I was at a race meeting with my family. I’d never been on track before. I remember Mum giving me $50 and wishing me luck. Armed with the form guide and a pen, I was let loose on the bookmakers. It reminded me of many Sundays watching Ken Calender quoting the odds on Wide World of Sports. Before I knew it, I was placing bets. I won a little bit of money but come the big race I was down to my last $5. I went to the TAB and placed my last remaining funds on Brew (because I liked a beer). As you know, it saluted and I went and collected my 25:1 winnings. It was a great feeling. I was cashed up. I remember walking away from the track with my new found “fortune” thinking “How easy is this!”.

I think things started to get really bad for me when I started earning a full time wage. I was mixing it with the big boys now. I had a university degree and had stepped into a pretty good job in a lucrative accounting firm. I was living at home with very few expenses and a fair amount of disposable income. Lunch hours were often spent down at the local TAB placing bets on sports, horses and greyhounds. Monday nights became greyhound night with a friend of mine. He’d come around and we’d drink and punt using our newly created online betting accounts. The problem was it didn’t stop at Mondays. I found myself placing bets just about every day. My head would be buried in the form guide or the sports pages while on the way to work. I would leave the office every morning to walk down to the TAB when it first opened to place bets on the basketball or baseball matches that were due to start in the US. I’d also watch or listen to the games online, so I’m sure I wasn’t very productive at work.

I was definitely mixing with the wrong crowds. All of my friends punted, so I probably became even more desensitized to it. A good night out for us always seemed to end up at the casino. It would be a competition to see who would win the most cash. I Don’t ever recall walking out of the casino with any more than enough money for a cheeseburger and a taxi home (if I was lucky) I also found some international casino sites to tide me over until the next time I went out with my friends.

I didn’t know when to say no or how to say enough is enough. I had no one to tell me either, not that I’d have listened if I’m honest. I was 10′ tall and bulletproof. If I ran out of cash, I’d use a credit card. It was all cash to me and it seemed limitless. The banks were always offering new credit cards and limit increases and I was willing and able to take up the offer. When I’d max out, I’d refinance, clear the cards and start again, and again. Gambling was the first thing I thought about in the morning and the last thing I thought about before I went to sleep, if I did sleep at all. A lot of sleepless nights were spent staring into a computer screen, either at a gambling site or at the bank balance, trying to juggle the finances and justify the next punt.

I did a lot of things I’m not proud of in my worst times. I spent more time punting than working, I took time off to play in poker tournaments or go to the casino or just to catch up on sleep. I’d opt out of going out with friends and family because I had other things on my mind. I’d be constantly looking at my phone if I was out somewhere. It completely took over my life. Nothing, not even the thrill of a win, was better than the feeling of placing that next bet and the anticipation of the result. It really was like a drug.

I had some big wins over the journey. $2,250 playing roulette online, $2,500 on the Soccer World Cup in ’06 (from a $100 starting base), $3,500 in a poker tournament online. $4,000 at Flemington during the 2011 spring carnival. I had some heavy losses too. There are two that really stick in my mind. The first was back in 2009. I had accumulated around $11,000 in my online account over a couple of days of heavy punting and large wagers. I was unstoppable. I decided to place a $5000 wager on the LA Lakers game on the over points market. Kobe Bryant had been on fire and this was a sure thing. Kobe had a shocker and I blew the lot, then proceeded to chase the $5000 loss, on other games and horses and within 3 hours, I’d lost the lot, plus another $1,000. The second loss, though not as big, sticks out in my mind not because of the amount, but more because of the way I lost it. I had been invited to a corporate marquee at Stakes Day at Flemington 2011 by a former business associate. Having won a few thousand dollars in the preceding days of the Carnival I walked into Flemington with an air of arrogance and smugness, as if I knew everything there was to know about punting. I was drinking and I was bragging about my punting to colleagues and complete strangers. Inevitably I lost the lot and quickly. I must have looked like a fool. I didn’t even have enough money left for a taxi home. Looking back, I’m still embarrassed about that today.

My low point came in April of 2012 when I had completely run out of money. I’d stretched my credit to the limit and the banks didn’t want to know me anymore, except for late payment reminders. I was getting knock backs from the credit card companies and calls from debt collection agencies threatening bankruptcy. This was uncharacteristic and people were starting to question me about my situation. You see, even throughout my heaviest gambling periods, I had always paid my bills on time. I became good at concealing what was really going on. I had it “under control”. I had to ask my Mum and stepfather for that month’s rent. Sitting down and talking to them was the hardest conversation I’ve ever had. I spilled the beans on what had been going on. Mum always knew I liked a punt but she never knew that the problem was as big as it was. I promised to stop, but that only lasted until June/July of that year, when I spent the majority of my $10,000 tax return on gambling.

By then I came to the realisation that it was time to try and break the cycle. I’d accumulated around $100,000 in unsecured gambling-related debts and there seemed to be no end in sight. I made a couple of inquiries with various debt assistance providers and they helped me establish a Debt Agreement. My creditors and I agreed to terms and I’m paying of the debts for the next five years. I am now unable to apply for further credit for the foreseeable future but at least there is a timeline in place to get back into the black.

Of course, taking care of the debt was only part of the solution. I needed to also get my gambling under control. I’ve been seeing a psychologist for the best part of 3 years after being recommended by my GP following a routine check-up. When I first presented to the psychologist, I was adamant that I was in control of my gambling and there was no way I wanted to stop. I wasn’t going to let the punt beat me. My mindset was such that giving up the punt was a sign of failure or weakness.

Gradually, I began to work through some strategies to help myself feel better and get more rest. I used to be a punter 24/7. Quite often I’d place bets where the result was decided while I was meant to be asleep. If I had a bet overnight I’d find it very hard to get to sleep and have a restful sleep. I started turning off my phone and laptop at night and limiting my bets to the daytime hours. I also looked after my sleep hygiene a little more enabling me to get to sleep and stay asleep. The result was that I was feeling better each day and more able to focus and make better decisions.

At the end of the football season in 2012, I decided to try and quit gambling altogether, to see if I could actually do it. I am not going to tell you it was easy, because it wasn’t. I substituted my gambling with other activities to take my mind off the punt. I started going to the gym for a while and also threw myself into some charity work and when I was at home, I’d play PlayStation. As time went on, I was finding that financially the pressure had been lifted and I also had more time for friends and family. I left Melbourne during the 2012 cup carnival to avoid getting caught up in the madness of Spring Racing Carnival.

Something unexpected happened to me later in the year and early into 2013. I’d been off the punt for a couple of months and admittedly it was getting easier not to punt however I fell into a state of deep depression. I found that not punting allowed these feelings to surface, rather than being suppressed or moderated by my habit. Not gambling allowed me to deal with my mental state head on. I started a course of mild anti-depressants in February with the commitment to stick with it for 12 months.

Not long after starting the medication, I lost my job. It was a redundancy however my employer had recently become aware of my gambling and my declining mental health so it was agreed this would be the best option for both parties, so after 7 years of loyal service, we parted ways. Redundancy did give me the time to reflect and a chance to rest and take care of myself.

Since February, things have been much better for me on the whole. I still have bad days and days where having a punt seems like a great way to escape reality, but I have surrounded myself with a good support network and tried to focus on activities that are productive rather than destructive. I have a plan and a clear path of how get out of the hole that I created because of my gambling. I know I have a long way to go, but I’m certainly well placed to regain control of my life. Springtime in Melbourne always throws up its temptations however it’s been 13 months without a punt and I’m pretty proud of that achievement. This is a streak I’m keen to see keep going.

So what has gambling cost me? Financially, I’ve never completely tallied up all of the losses but given my statement of financial position in July of 2012, I would estimate my losses to be in excess of $250,000 over 10 years. I’ve lost my financial freedom and am bound by my debt arrangements for the next 5 years. But the money is only one part. Gambling cost me promotions at work and ultimately cost me my job, it was also partly responsible for ending two very good relationships. The stress and strain that I put on my loved ones because of my addiction was too much to bear. I have lost friends along the way. In essence the punt basically cost me my 20’s.

I am by no means an anti-gambling advocate. Quite the contrary. I believe, like many other things, gambling has its place in society and in moderation can be fun and harmless. I do however disagree with the bombardment of betting related advertising and paraphernalia on TV, radio and the internet, particularly during prime time when kids are still watching TV. It scares me when talking to young kids who are able to quote back match odds to you and have an understanding of betting markets. One day, gambling advertising will go the same way of cigarette advertising. I honestly believe that this advertising, coupled with the ease and convenience in which punters can access betting markets, is akin to putting a drink in an alcoholic’s hand or a needle in a junkies arm. I think as a community we need to seriously ask the question of regulators and governments and restrict a lot of the current gambling and advertising practices and invest more money into programs and support to assist problem gamblers to find their path back to control.

I’m almost 32 now and learning to live life without gambling. My mentality and attitude has changed and I now realise that I am more in control than ever before. Personally, I found it too hard to moderate my addiction so I have given it up all together. But if you can get the support you need, implement strategies to take the power back from the punt and most of all, look after yourself, you too can regain control over your life.

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If you or someone you care about suffers from problem gambling, seek help and address the issue in a constructive manner. A1 Debt Assistance offer problem gamblers a strategy that makes binge gambling almost impossible in a very short period of time, usually days.