From the early days in Australia and that first big win, to rock bottom, to coming clean with family about his gambling and finally how he got help; J takes us on a journey though the darker days and how he found a way forward.
Thank you J for being brave enough to share your story.
whatever reason it rang out louder than before; “Nah I play the tables, slots are for losers!”
If that is true then I’m a loser if not in truth, but by definition! This is just one of a multitude
of phrases used by ‘non-machine’ gamblers and it fails to acknowledge one simple fact –
gambling is a poison irrespective of the form it takes and regardless of the pond you choose
to swim in, we are all on the same hook.
I should really start at the best place there is… the start. But - where is that? When did my
gambling begin and more importantly – why? Many of you are connecting with what I have
just written for the simple reason that every spin, every black jack, every green zero on this
game of roulette we play seems to overwrite the last. At some point we get lost in the
mouth of the monster and for those of us fortunate enough to be spat out, it can be hard to
trace the path of devastation back to some sort of a beginning. What I do know is that my
gambling started shortly after I relocated from New Zealand to Australia in 2008. Another
phrase often bandied around is that Aussies ‘love a punt’ and if my experience is anything to
go by, this is entirely the truth. You go to a sports club for a beer and a meal – pokie room in
the back. You sit for a coffee in a Melbourne café and oh, what’s that - pokie room in the
back. You pop up to your local pub to grab a cold one after a hard day at work and surprise
surprise – pokie room in the back. In New Zealand I didn’t bother with the pokies, but then I
suppose I never really noticed them as they weren’t on my doorstep but it didn’t take long
for me to notice them in Australia; you’d have to walk around with your eyes closed not to.
drag. The drinker’s first sip. I can’t remember the first time I fed the demon a twenty but I
can tell you that much like the smoker and the drinker – my first time was not to be my last.
For a long time I felt as though I had a handle on my gaming. At first I probably did. Too
scared to show up the next day like those other ‘losers’ who appeared as though they were
in some way part of the cabling keeping the machine alive. But then it happened. I had a
win… not your usual twenty bucks here, fifty bucks there but a jackpot, with all its lights and
musical fanfare - and I walked away with a cool grand. I felt like the king of the room. People
were detaching from their machines long enough to come and witness the spectacle, patting
me on the back as though I had actually achieved something worthwhile. I was overcome by
a sensation of belonging, of achievement and reward. My whole body rushed from head to
toe with excitement, much like the first taste of a powerful drug to an addict. And that’s the
bait. Little did I know - I had just swallowed it whole.
noticed, my gambling increased. By early 2015 my internal monologue had become
concerned. I knew that my gaming couldn’t have been normal, if it was then why was I
getting payday loans? No sooner had the Angel on one shoulder started to steer me right,
the Devil on the other convinced me that there was nothing to worry about. Everyone does
it, right? You earn good money and you don’t gamble every day so you’re fine – you work
hard, you deserve it. If only the Devil’s apple hadn’t been so sweet.
In 2016 my partner and I relocated to New Zealand. It was in every way a fresh start and a
once in a lifetime opportunity to clear the small amount of debt we had and get ahead. The
bank consolidated our debt and if we played our cards right – we would be debt free within
a year and well on our way to owning our first home. But it wasn’t just the two of us that
moved home – my addiction had hitched a ride too. One of the first things I noticed when I
got back was that it was almost impossible to find a pub or sports club with a decent pokie
room. Bets were capped at $2.50 and you couldn’t win any more than $500 in one win (aside
from the rare room jackpot, which was still less than a grand). That just won’t do – where is
the fun in that? But in Auckland, the pubs are far from your only gaming option and it didn’t
take me long to rally together a few friends for a casino night. This wasn’t out of the
ordinary and I was always ‘well behaved’ when gaming with others. In the first weekend at
the casino I walked out with over six grand in jackpots and once again, I got the rush.
Everything I touched that weekend turned to gold and I felt as though I couldn’t lose. In
Australia I was a pub gambler… in New Zealand I had devolved into something much, much
more destructive – I became a casino gambler.
Across the ensuing 18 months I had clocked up more debt than I ever had in my life. My
relationships began to suffer as I strung together lie after lie to cover up my addiction and
the loans needed to feed it. Despite earning good money, I had to take on casual work just
to make ends meet. Eventually the house of cards I had stacked to continue to hide my
gambling started to look as though it was about to topple and once again, the Angel piped
up and said that it was time to confess what I had done – even if it came at the cost of my
relationships. The stress and pressure of the life I had created had become unbearable and it had become clear to me that I was no longer gambling with my money – but with my life.
weeks after I had made this realisation that my partner had stumbled on a loan account
summary and confronted me with it. It was the opportunity that up until that moment, I
didn’t know I needed and I took it – I confessed. In the weeks that followed I endured many
painful confessions to the people around me that I love. In many cases, people I had lied to
or deceived in some way. In all cases I was welcomed with open arms and an open heart.
Some were surprised, some not so much but all were supportive and able to see strength
that was required to conquer this horrible illness. Our financial situation had been left in
tatters but something I came to realise in seeking advice is that there is always a way
forward, the road may be tough and may be winding but, there is always a way forward.
I’m not sure what feels better, the fact that I haven’t gambled for three months, or the fact
that I haven’t told a lie in three months. Either way, they both feel monumentally better
than any jackpot I have ever won. This time, I won my life back – a little tattered in places
and not quite the same but; I have it back. I took the bait, swam to rock bottom – and
wriggled off the hook.
Written by: J