Read real stories posted by real people.
Sharing stories, whether you're a former gambler, friend, family member or loved one can help people find support and strength in each other's journeys and consequently, feel less alone.
Remember, you are not alone.
I first began playing the pokies at an unhealthy level in 2006. It happened following the breakdown of my marriage, the sudden loss of my father, having a mother with dementia becoming more dependent, a son suffering with depression, and doing full time shift work. I found the pokies were an escape for me; playing them shut out the painful existence that was my life. I never thought that I would get addicted to them, but I did.
Inevitably, when I thought that I had beaten them, something would trigger a memory, and I found myself back in the gaming room.
In 2012, I realised I was at a point where I needed help to manage what had become a financial crisis. With misleading advice from Financial Brokers, I had paid off three credit cards three times over, and consolidated debt while trying to get out of the mess. In the depths of a gambling addiction, you are not thinking clearly, and make poor decisions.
I found help through the Gambling Helpline, who referred me to a Gambling Help Service and I worked with both a counsellor and a financial counsellor. Their help and support was invaluable in assisting me to break the habit, this was at a time when I thought there was no way out.
I now have a good work/life balance. I have sold the unit I was buying and am now renting, and I have a new outlook on life. I also let go of the hurt that was causing me so much pain.
We are all vulnerable, and there will be times when life challenges us, but with counselling guidance, we can learn how to make better choices.
Like many compulsive gamblers my first bet was a big winner.
When I was 15, I was asked by one of my friends if I would like to go to the Port Pirie Races with him. I told him that you had to be 21 to bet on horses (my father used to enjoy a harmless two bob punt on a Saturday). He said the bookies wouldn't care they'll take your money. So I chose to go...big mistake. My big win was ten shillings each way on a horse called Future in the Futurity, stakes at the huge odds of 33/1. The horse won easily and I picked up over twenty pounds or six weeks wages. The money though was only a small thing; suddenly I was the centre of attention with other punters.
The winning was only a small part, but the adrenaline feeling, and suddenly having new friends, triggered something in me and I made the choice that I wanted more of this adrenaline rush and sudden recognition. This was the start of an ever-increasing urge that soon consumed my life, as I started playing two-up, cards and whatever where I could get that feeling and hide the demons inside me.
It was after a football game that I was following a mate of mine back into Pirie when he flipped his car. I was first there and he died on my lap. I was devastated and dropped into Telstra where both my sisters worked, however, neither was there but a girl called Jeanette was and made me coffee and consoled me till I felt a little better. Something clicked between us that night and not too much later we became an item. When I left that night I did the usual thing that I had done since that first big win when I was under pressure or stressed I went and gambled. My growing feelings for Jeanette did help me slow my gambling down until I would have an upset and then it would flare up even worse.
I thought my life had taken a turn for the better when my only son Scott was born. We were over the moon but quickly brought back to earth when within a few hours we were told that because of complications he had to be sent to Adelaide. We were told that there was a strong chance he may end up with a mental disability. We were shattered but once again my solution was to go on the punt, to lose myself in the adrenaline rush, although I now realise that a lot of these times I was actually punishing myself for things in my early years and quite often felt more justified when I lost. Thankfully, Scott grew up completely to be a great son and father.
But I still could not control these urges and would use any excuse to get away to have a punt and my bills just kept rising.
After suffering health issues (mine and my wife, Jeanette), contemplating suicide and suffering financial setbacks (including stealing $60,000 from my mother-in-law to fund my gambling addiction) I rang the Gambling Helpline and began attending meetings with a Gambling Help Service. I was eventually sentenced to 3 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 14 months and home detention an option after 7 months.
Arriving at Port Augusta jail after dark and being stripped, given some cold food and taken to a cell with a stranger is something you cannot imagine.
Being in jail, it was 20 months since my last bet and I was not going to let all that hard work slip. I started to go to Adelaide for ongoing counselling and meetings. I resumed my work as a speaker with a Gambling Help Service in their Consumer Voice program. I did talks all around South Australia and some prisons. I had realised some time ago that my worst times were when I was under pressure or stressed and I decided I would try not to get in that position if possible.
I then began working in Port Pirie as a peer support worker. Every day that I was there and every new thing I learnt, just thrilled me with excitement and made me grateful that I had been given more time and opportunities help make a difference for others.
People ask me when I do my talks why do I say that I am lucky. I usually reply something like this: "I lost a small fortune while gambling. I lost my freedom for a while, I lost my pride and I lost a lot of material possessions. I have had cancer and been told I have 5 years to live, I suffer from two lots of arthritis plus my bad heart. My wife and daughter-in-law also had cancer too and you may think I am unlucky.
However I have not lost the most important things in life. The love of my wife and family, my life or my sanity. I am also lucky because right now I am in the best place of my life. I have employment where I may be able to make a difference, my faith has returned, I now enjoy going to bed without feeling sick and plotting inside where I can get the stake for my next punt from. I have an amazing wife, beautiful son and daughter-in-law and beautiful grand-daughters. I am very lucky."
In my meetings, one of the things we talk about is being able to face the man in the mirror. For a long time I found it hard to look and in actual fact hated what I saw but now, I am liking the person I see more and more every day.
I am a 24-year-old female, from Western Australia. I came to live in Adelaide with my partner back in 1999. Back then in Western Australia, there were no gambling venues apart from the Burswood Casino. The Casino in Perth didn't contain the same poker machines that Adelaide had, so I never was really interested in gambling when I was in Perth.
I discovered the pokies a while after I arrived in Adelaide. My fiancé took me out one night to a pub and allowed me to have a 'flutter' with a couple of dollars. I honestly didn't like it. I lost the money so quickly and I didn't really understand how the games worked.
I started my new degree in the middle of the year. My fiancé worked every day and I became lonely and had too much time to spare. I didn't want to work while I did my degree and my fiancé provided for us well financially. My fiancé used to give me $500 a fortnight for rent and shopping, so I always had some money left over and I soon started to gamble. When I first began I would only gamble $20 a fortnight and I would always tell my fiancé that I had gone for a gamble. This went on for almost a year.
I didn't feel it was a problem, because I enjoyed the social event and I didn't feel bad when I lost the money.
In December 2001, my fiancé was having a boys' night out and I was invited. I didn't want to go, so my fiancé gave me $50 and dropped me off at the Casino. To my delight I won $50,000! This has been the best and worst thing that has ever happened to us. We were able to invest some of our money for our future and we're also going on our dream holiday. Unfortunately, it meant that I gambled more than ever. I started taking money from our joint account and changing the details of our electronic money accounting system.
My view changed from just enjoying the social event and spending some money to wanting to win more money, which meant it also changed the way I gambled. I started gambling multiple lines with multiple credits and the more I gambled the worse I felt, because I was losing money that wasn't mine and I was lying about it to my fiancé. I became very agitated and irritable after days when I had lost hundreds of dollars. My fiancé knew there was something wrong from my behaviour and from looking at our accounts, but still he trusted me and never said a word.
One night after not being able to sleep from sheer guilt and fear, I woke my fiancé up early in the morning and told him everything. My fiancé was stunned and shocked by this revelation. He was so disappointed and that made me really want to give up gambling. I stopped gambling for over four months and I was very proud of myself and my fiancé had begun to trust me again. Then in June after my birthday I received a lot of money from family. I couldn't fight the urge and I started to gamble again, this time worse than ever. I managed to lose over a grand in less than a month and I couldn't account for where it had vanished. My fiancé found out and confronted me. He told me if I didn't stop he was leaving. It was the first time where I felt our relationship was really threatened. I was so distraught and finally made the choice to seek professional help.
I began counselling in mid July 2002 and I am proud to say, with the help of my counsellor, I have not gambled for good period of time. I still feel the urge to gamble and I think about it every now and then and I can't say that I won't ever gamble again, but I do know with the protective measures I use, that I can be assured that I won't go down the path I was heading again. My partner is very proud of me and trusts me fully, because he knows I won't risk our relationship again.
The protective measures that I use that help me include:
I gave my keycard to my partner to keep whenever I didn't need to do shopping; this meant I couldn't take out money to spend.
I took up a new hobby, which meant I had less time during the week to dwell on gambling. It also replaced the social contact I had enjoyed with gambling.
We now use online banking and a joint account so my partner can view all transactions as well. This is for my benefit, so that if I do slip up, we can talk about it before it becomes an issue.
Family and Friends
Mindy and Brad are both in their early 30s and they have a new baby daughter.
Mindy called the Gambling Helpline after discovering bank statements that made her suspicious that Brad was gambling. She was referred to a Gambling Help Service.
She attended an initial counselling session seeking some guidance on how to raise her concerns with Brad. She then went home and showed the statements to Brad who admitted that he was gambling on pokies, though he didn’t see either his gambling, or the credit card debt, as a problem. Brad agreed to attend counselling with Mindy as she insisted it was a problem for her and he valued their relationship.
During counselling, Brad disclosed that he had enjoyed occasional, social gambling on pokies since he was 18. He acknowledged that his gambling had escalated throughout Mindy’s pregnancy and after the birth, such that he was now gambling most lunchtimes and evenings, most often alone. Brad’s work was strenuous work and he felt he needed down-time to manage his work stress. Gambling was fulfilling this need for him. Mindy said that with the advent of the baby, she had anticipated extra support from her parents but this didn’t happen because of changes in her birth families circumstances which required all of their time and attention. This amplified her experience of post-natal depression and increased her dependence on Brad, which Brad found added to his stress.
At this point in their relationship, they had not shared their income details or spending habits with each other. The financial arrangement they had put in place was that Brad would contribute a sum of his choosing to a joint account that was intended for household needs. In addition, they had a joint credit card, which they had set aside for family emergencies only. It was the use of this card that triggered Mindy’s awareness of Brad’s gambling.
Counselling helped Brad and Mindy explore the impact of becoming a family, and how to sustain and grow their close, intimate relationship. In particular, it helped them consider their financial relationship and what money meant to each of them. Mindy had recently given up her own income and she recognised that her wellbeing was connected to financial safety and security; whereas Brad trusted in his capacity to earn what they needed and address any current or future gambling debts. It was agreed that Mindy would take care of their finances for a period of time while Brad stopped gambling. Brad repaid the credit card debt and increased his contribution to the household account. Both renewed their commitment to their relationship, and to increasing their time and communication with each other. After some time had passed, Brad noticed that coming home to his family and sharing in family activities, not only deepened his connection to them but also assisted his work stress management.
You always hear about the ones who get hurt the most by addiction. One day I found myself in this category. I don't consider my partner to be a particularly bad addict, as far as gamblers are concerned. We never lost money that we didn't have, nor even that we couldn't afford. But her addiction was serious enough to threaten the most valuable thing we have — our relationship.
The hardest aspect of my fiance's gambling addiction was the violation of trust. I didn't particularly like her gambling when I knew about it (if we went to the casino I would just fall asleep on a pokie while she gambled) but I could live with it. However, when I found out she had been covering up gambling during the day with money from our joint savings account I knew this problem would end up ruining our relationship if it continued.
I would like to say that after she admitted this behaviour my partner never concealed her gambling again, but giving up an addiction is not so easy. However, from my point of view every time my partner chose to gamble without telling me she was choosing beeping machines over our future, and I struggled to understand how she could make that choice.
In the end only removing access to money when I was not about was effective in stopping her gambling. Now that she has gone without gambling for almost a year, we feel confident in slowly restoring access to cash and ATM cards, and possibly even an occasional visit to the casino in the future.
But only with my knowledge of any gambling can we build trust again.
I have worked as a peer worker for over three years now, and helped establish the Peer Support Service in the Gambling Help Service at Relationships Australia South Australia (RASA). I have been the Senior Peer Support Worker for eighteen months.
Peer workers use their lived experience to inspire and offer hope to others for their own recovery. It can cut through stigma, shame and guilt that people who have problematic gambling usually feel. It provides a connection where they don't feel judged but feel understood and this gives hope that they too can overcome their problems.
An example of my role was working with "Annabelle" who had been to a gambling help service in the past and had been able to abstain from gambling for two years. However, after relapsing, she started seeing a counsellor at RASA and was subsequently referred to the Peer Work Service. At the time she was feeling generally "pretty low" about her life.
She had physical health problems and as a result had left the workforce and was on the Disability Support Pension. She felt as though she had lost her identity because she had always worked. Gambling had become her solace.
During our one to one peer support sessions it was evident that her goal was abstinence from gambling. To achieve this she wanted to bar herself from venues but at the same time was too embarrassed to carry this out. She had been having difficulty dealing with urges to gamble and had a real 'fear' that she would gamble again.
Our work has enabled Annabelle to reframe her 'fear' and the notion that 'once a gambler always a gambler' and she has not gambled for a year now.
We explored recovery not just as cessation of gambling but the offer of a unique opportunity to search for a new sense of self and passion in one's life. She has started reflecting on the ways she wants to reclaim a meaningful healthy life.
My name is Judy and I work at the Gambling Helpline. We assist people in South Australia with gambling related problems as well as helping people whose lives are being affected by someone else's gambling.
Callers to the service may feel overwhelmed by their situation and a call to the Gambling Helpline can be the first step to resolving the distress and fallout created by problem gambling.
Most people who ring the Helpline are calling for the first time. Some have never discussed their gambling before having been prevented by embarrassment from talking about their problem. Others have tried methods of limiting or stopping their gambling and want to discuss what else they can do. Family members often need to discuss what they are able to do to help their gambling relative and/or limit the damage that is being caused to the family. People often report a great sense of relief by sharing what is happening in their lives.
Staff at the Helpline deal with a variety of gambling related issues on a daily basis. They are trained counsellors whose approach will be to help the person find the solutions that will work for them. This includes introducing them to the range of treatment options available and empowering them to find the service that suits their specific needs whether that be self-help options, face-to-face counselling, financial counselling or support groups.
As the Helpline is a 24-hour telephone service, callers can make contact from anywhere at a time that suits them. Our counsellors are always available. Callers are encouraged to ring whenever assistance is needed.
I have been working as a Counsellor for over 20 years, and with Relationships Australia SA for 7 years, supporting people with a very wide range of issues and experiences. For the past two years I have focussed on helping people overcome the effects of problem gambling in their lives.
Many people enjoy gambling but of course, the more a person gambles, the more likely that gambling can get out of control and rather than being fun, it can cause pain and hardship. It doesn't matter where people come from, how old they are, whether they are rich or poor, working or not working, well educated or not, male or female, gambling can become a serious problem for individuals and their families.
As a gambling help counsellor
- I see people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.
- I see people who want to stop gambling altogether because it has led to financial stress, relationship difficulties, problems at work, and feelings of guilt, depression and anxiety.
- I see those who become concerned that gambling is taking up more and more of their time and want support to recover control.
- I see individuals who have learned of their partner's secret gambling and seek support to work through their feelings of anger and betrayal.
- I see couples who want to work through the effects that gambling has had on their relationship.
- I see family members who are worried about their loved one's gambling and seek guidance with how to help them.
When people come to see me, it is really important they feel safe to talk about their issues and concerns. Initially my work with a person is to build a trusting relationship.
So my first job is to reassure them of two things:
- That what we talk about will be strictly confidential (unless I have reason to be concerned about a person's safety). This I will explain directly at the start.
- That I will not judge the person, no matter what they tell me. This I need to demonstrate throughout my interactions.
As I listen to people's stories, I will ask questions that enable me and the client(s) to understand what has happened, is happening or can happen better. Gambling can be the cause of lots of problems for people, but it is also true that many people gamble to escape the problems they already have. In the course of counselling, I hear many stories that are filled with pain, stress, grief, trauma, depression, lack of control, shame, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, fear and hopelessness. Often people don't seem to lose their sense of humour though, in spite of their difficulties, so there can be a lot of laughter. Over time, I also hear other stories – of past and present experiences of strength, power, courage, control and achievement.
It is through this exploration that the pathway to resolution, or possible solutions to the problems, becomes clear. There is no set or prescribed way of working together. The person is always at the centre of the work and I will move with them. I am not the expert in other people's lives and, unfortunately, I have no magic wand. However, having worked with many hundreds of people throughout my years as a counsellor, I have absolute faith in a person's capacity to move forward to a better place. I endeavour, through these counselling conversations, to enable people to find their way – indeed their own way - whatever that might be.
There is no specific or recommended amount of time for counselling. Some people find a small number of sessions helpful while others remain engaged for quite long periods of time. Some people flow in and out as they feel they need. This is a free service and I will support a person for as long as they find me useful to them.
Generally I see people frequently to start with – usually weekly – but as they get more of a handle on things this will drop back to fortnightly or monthly or even every three months.
The most important message I can pass on to all people who are suffering as a consequence of gambling is that people can change!
- People CAN stop gambling! There are many stories that bring hope and inspiration to others. Relationships CAN recover. Couples CAN learn to trust each other again.