Richard started with gambling online on phone apps but when he got to the point where he was losing all of his salary, he asked people for cash and would use the cash in a betting shop.
“I usually only ever gambled on football games as I’ve played for many years myself, so that rather stupidly gave me a false sense of thinking I would know the outcome of the game,” he said.
“I’d gamble all hours of the day, setting my alarm for early morning, gambling all day at work and basically until all my salary was completely gone.”
“Looking back, I knew it was becoming a problem as soon as I started setting my alarm clock for 2 or 3 am to ensure I didn’t miss certain sports games. Plus I was hiding it from friends and family, making sure they didn’t see my phone, or me going into a betting shop.”
Reflecting on what he was like before he started gambling, Richard described how his gambling affected him.
“I know it sounds a bit of a cliche, but I was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy,” he said.
“I certainly wasn’t the type of person that would avoid or let down my friends and family. But gambling makes you so anxious about what people would think if they knew the extent of the gambling, that you avoid people. That’s unhealthy at the best of times, but more so when you’re stressed about wasting your salary gambling.”
Richard recalls his life as being “full of deceit and trying to avoid friends and family in case they found out.”
“The deceit is the worst part because you know what you’re doing isn’t right, but just can’t stop cold,” he said.
At his lowest point, Richard describes two instances that he replays in his head most days.
The first was that he never told his wife about his gambling and she had no idea about it when they married.
“I managed to keep it from her and I regret that every day,” he said.
“Luckily she has stuck by me, but I’m well aware that others wouldn’t have. When I eventually had to break the news, I thought I was about to lose everything.”
The second instance was when Richard missed his best friend’s wedding.
“He asked me to be his best man but I couldn’t afford the trip abroad because I had gambled everything away a few weeks before. We haven’t spoken in a few years now, but I live in hope that one day I will be able to reach out and repair even a small part of what I created.”
Looking back on the impact gambling had on his family and friends, Richard said he has only been able to realise and understand it since he stopped.
“My parents and siblings have stuck by me through all of this and, at times, I’m sure they never even recognised me. I find it difficult to comprehend how that must have felt, especially now I have a family of my own. As for my wife, she could have walked away to protect herself and my son, but she didn’t and I feel so lucky to still have them with me.”
Richard said he would tell anyone that listens, that it gets “so much better once you open up to those that are close to you, or to an organisation like PGF Services.”
“It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, telling my wife and family the full extent of my addiction, but looking at it now, it was by far the most rewarding few words I’ve ever spoken.”
“If I go back to the cloud hanging over me during my gambling days, I honestly felt like that was how it would be forever; like gambling was just a part of who I was now,” he said.
Yet Richard’s life now is completely different.
“We try to handle things differently now my wife understands everything. The two things we have implemented that have helped me are setting budgets and accountability. Hopefully that will help me build trust with my wife,” he said.
Online gambling in Aotearoa is largely unregulated, with the TAB and Lotto being the only operators legally able to offer online gambling to New Zealanders. But that doesn’t stop offshore online gambling operators getting around loopholes in our advertising laws to promote their sites, often on social media, and offer inducements to encourage Kiwis to open accounts. New Zealand’s Gambling Act 2003 is now outdated and no longer fit for purpose.
Richard said “without a shadow of a doubt, restrictions need to be put in place.”
“I don’t believe there are enough restrictions in place and the ones that apparently are, like setting limits, are easily stepped around or adjusted,” he said.
“Going back to my time playing football overseas, out of my 22 teammates, I’d guess that each and every one of them is gambling at least once a week.”
“The advertisements are everywhere and you get roped into their deals, expecting always to come out on top. I’m not saying everyone is going to get carried away, but there are definitely vulnerable people who need protecting.”
Richard’s main reason for wanting to share his story is to describe the difference between what his life was like while he was gambling versus how it is now.
“There was such a cloud over my head during the darker times, but I want to tell people that there is hope.”
We are extremely grateful to “Richard” for sharing his experience to help others. It takes strength, resilience and bravery to take that first step in a journey of recovery, let alone to have come as far as Richard has. We hope it helps others understand that harmful gambling is a public health issue and absolutely not about “individual responsibility”.
We also hope that this story will encourage you to seek help if you think your gambling is negatively impacting your life. Getting some support really helps and Richard’s story shows that recovery is possible.
*Name has been changed to protect identity