“When I gambled, money would lose all meaning… It would just become Monopoly money to me,”
said James, a forty-something Queenslander.
James is just one of an estimated 115,000 mainly low-income Australians with a serious gambling addiction.
In Australia, gambling is everywhere. It’s not difficult to see why, in 2014; Fairfax media reported Australia as having the highest gambling rate in the world, with adults losing an average of $1,279 each in the course of a year. This meant a total $4.7 billion to $8.4 billion was lost annually.
On a trip to a bar, one is likely to encounter a gaming room. Lining the streets are billboards advertising late-night gaming hours. Gambling websites flash across TV screens. In the life of a problem gambler, these sights are daily reminders of their worst nightmare.
Every day, James is surrounded by advertising for betting sites, phone applications that encouraged him to win prizes, and wishful television advertisements depicting what life would be like if he won the lottery.
The dark truth of problem gambling lies not far beneath the surface. For every one problem gambler, up to 10 others are adversely affected. As a child, James lived in a household with three gambling addicts; his father, grandmother and uncle.
“Part of it [gambling addiction] is your personality, but growing up in certain situations it can also be environmental as well,”
As a young boy, James realised he had a knack for playing card games, marbles and pinball machines. Little did he know that the innocent games of childhood were to become a stepping stone into addiction. At just seventeen years old, James had his first play on a pokie machine with his mates.
As a father, James has seen how his problem gambling has devastatingly affected his relationships, including the relationship with his child.
“You’re just thinking of the next time you’re going to gamble and where you are going to gamble and where you are going to get the money from. You’re always juggling bank cards,”
“You might have been with your child one day and not even had enough to buy them an ice lolly that day. But I think initially you are motivated by other things and then eventually if you commit to it you realise and you end up doing it for yourself,”
“The bottom line is you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. The decision comes from within,”
According to the Mayo Clinic’s guide, James’s symptoms are not unique. Compulsive gamblers experience big thrills from taking gambling risks. A problem gambler’s adulation is short-lived; once they lose, they gamble to escape feelings of helplessness, guilt or depression, entering into a vicious cycle.
Although, since James stopped gambling, he has seen a side of life he did not know existed.
“It is a constant struggle, but things do get easier. You have to be off it at least a year before you start to feel better within and you start to see some rewards of not doing it,”
“A compulsive gambler could have a hundred people in front of them saying, ‘Mate, get off the gamble, you could get yourself in a lot of trouble’, but it goes back to making the decision from within. You feel like you cannot do it, it’s like it’s going to destroy you.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with problem gambling, free counseling from the Gambling Help Service by Relationships Australia is available on 1300 364 277.
*Name has been changed.