Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Stakes Were High in Gambler’s Battle of Addiction

John wishes he had been able to play his hand earlier – and stop gambling well before he did. He could have saved himself and his family a small fortune and a lot of heartache.

Speaking to Warrane residents on May 9, 2012, John went through his personal roller-coaster ride of addiction.

It began with a fascination with horses while he was still at school. A few bets here and there.

However after he was forced to abandon a promising sporting career due to injury, his gambling habit started to grow.

“I didn’t go one day without a bet,” he said. “I also didn’t go one night without losing sleep worrying about the money. My wife realised there was a problem when she received an overdue loan letter from the bank.”

At the time, John had a dream job, working at a Sydney NRL club.

He said that in those days, gambling was common in League circles mainly due to plenty of spare time between training, games or special events.

Between race days and betting on the horses, well there were always the poker machines.

“I was a liar,” John said, explaining how he managed to hide his massively growing debts for so long. “It used to take all my guile and charm. I used to take money out of one loan account to pay another and so on. If I didn’t time the withdrawals just right to meet the repayments, letters would start arriving and I had to get home in time to retrieve them from the letter box before my wife did.”

John said he was only able to pull out of the downward spiral he was in because, like many other gamblers, he hit rock bottom. Fortunately a friend also saw that he had just about played his last hand.

The friend was very ill in hospital with cancer and she had said to him: “You can be better than that.”

“She didn’t have to tell me what it was about,” John said. “I knew she knew. I told my wife that night.”

Understandably John’s wife didn’t take the news too well. It took a number of years of rebuilding and confronting the problem head-on.

But they worked at it and they worked together.

John’s story is not unusual in Australia. Gambling addiction is a major problem, particularly among young men. In all, Australians gamble away around $20 billion each year. And the growth of gambling is unlikely to be turned around in the near future, with the increasing opportunities to gamble without even leaving home, thanks to online gambling.

Around 80,000 Australians are considered problem gamblers. Six hundred thousand Australians play poker machines at least once every week.

That is not to say everyone who has a bet or plays a pokie is or will become a gambler. But for those with an underlying addiction it can be like petrol on the fire. But there is help available from groups like Gamblers Anonymous – an organisation that John used to attend many nights a week when he was trying to get on top of his problem.

“I have now gone ten years without a bet,” he said “but at times it is still a real battle.”

John said he had been helped to overcome his addiction by his Catholic faith. He now works for the Church and says he’s received a lot of support over the years from people within the church.

Not the support that makes headlines but knowing there are people to talk to when things are tough or just provide a bit of a confidence boost.

Like so many other gamblers, he was not motivated by money. “That is not the reason people gamble,” he said. “It was certainly not the reason I gambled. For me it was something far deeper – I was lonely and gambling was my escape. And gambling also helped with stress.”

One thing that helped John overcome his problem, apart from the support of his wife, was working with people with disabilities. To stop thinking about yourself and to start to think about social welfare issues. For him, it was working with people with disabilities and their families. “I may have helped some of the people with whom I was working” he said, “but whilst they may not realise it, they were helping me as well”.

John would never want anyone to think of him as some kind of hero because he took on his addiction and came up a winner.

“The real hero is my wife. She has stuck with me through thick and thin.”

[Warrane College offers more than just accommodation to students at UNSW: Details of other guest speakers are available here]