Firstly, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to the Gambling Impact Society for helping me develop and embrace my story. And thank you to you, the reader – you are a part of my story now too.
I am a young Aussie bloke who loves sport and competition – gambling was immediately attractive to me.
First, I started betting small amounts on sports, at the casino, and at the races. Always with friends, always having a good time and not necessarily focusing on the gambling itself. I enjoyed the thrill and loved working out “strategies” to win. One night when I was in my late teens, I woke up in the middle of the night and designed a betting system for the casino. I wrote it all down and even woke up my dad to tell him what a genius I was. I thought I had it all figured out.
Turns out it already existed – it’s called the Martingale system and it’s based on something called the St Petersburg paradox. All fancy terms for basically a great strategy to lose all your money fast…
Next, I found myself following someone else’s theory. This was a Facebook group called the 50k challenge. It was a social thing; there were many people in the group, and we would follow tips together – all from one man who none of us knew. The idea was that you would bet $50 on his tip, which would usually be very low odds. Then, if it won, you would bet that entire amount on the next tip. Slowly but surely, and then exponentially, the wins were expected to increase, until we inevitably hit $50k, so we thought. I went along for the ride.
One of the problems here was that the tips came from everywhere. One day we would be following an NFL match in the States, the next it would be a greyhound in Western Australia. And my curiosity meant that I started following everything and developing my own tips accordingly. Suddenly, I was watching and betting on all kinds of sports and racing, at all times of the day. It affected my studies, my social life, and definitely my bank account.
At the same time, I was working at a pub, and had been “promoted” to the TAB. I thought this was great – a new challenge and maybe some new insights with tips from the locals. Now I was surrounded by horse racing – constantly talking to customers, colleagues, security guards. Who was the big tip for the day, who was going to win the Doncaster or the Chelmsford? Soon it was a question of who was going to win race 6 at Launceston on a Wednesday evening.
Things got out of hand fast. I was betting at work, spending my fortnightly pay within days, dropping my university grades and being less present with my friends, family, my girlfriend.
One night I was working in the TAB on my own. It was a Wednesday night and there weren’t any customers in my section of the pub. I had no money and wanted to get some dinner, but I didn’t want to call my parents for money. I made a choice to have a bet with money I didn’t have. Just $10 – then I could make enough for a kebab across the road. But the bet lost. Now the till was out. I needed to balance the till, so, in desperation, I chose to bet again – this time a safe bet. $20 on a sure thing. The sure thing lost.
A few more “safe” bets and I was on the phone to my parents, all of us panicking as we tried to figure out how to fix my mistakes and fix them fast. I had spent a lot of money that wasn’t mine. My parents had to go to several ATMs, then deliver me the cash in an envelope, pretending to be a customer. It was an awful experience.
That night I promised to quit my job and seek help. I was determined, but seeking help was a difficult and confusing process. I made a positive choice and took some good steps. I did quit my job, I did find help, and I committed to quitting the punt.
However, of course it wasn’t that simple. Quitting a job in November meant that I was leading into Summer with no job and therefore no money. Other circumstances meant that my walls were down too – I had lost two close family members and my dad had been through open heart surgery all that same year. Then, shortly after leaving my job, I had a breakup with my partner of four years. Things felt like they were crumbling around me – my future all of a sudden didn’t make any sense and I didn’t know a way forward. I had saved some money – not much, and I was desperate knowing that I had a couple of months before my upcoming job interview. I had a bright (desperate) idea to throw all my money on Hillary Clinton in the upcoming (2016) American election. You know the rest of that story.
I had to start afresh – financially and in many other areas of my life. I made a choice to pick myself up, do the right thing, be open to new people and experiences, and most of all, control my gambling. For a while, things were on the rise for me, and I was doing well.
Over the next two years, things were steady. However, part of that steadiness were regular periods of going broke through gambling once again. I just never shook it. Over time it became worse, ever so slightly. This problem of mine became more dangerous and more of a burden on others. It was now 2018, and I was beginning to borrow money from my parents, my cousin, and even my new partner.
Later in the year, after getting into a betting frenzy and spending all my money, as well as what I had borrowed from others, I looked at my account. I thought “what if there is some leftover in my savings account, or somewhere else”. And there it was – there was a home loan. I had access to it, and I couldn’t believe it. It was a lot of money – I didn’t even understand how it worked. I thought that I’d just take a little bit out, make some profit, and then put it back in. I made the choice to steal from my own family.
Things spiralled fast. Each time I withdrew money from the home loan, it led to more and more stress, urgency, and desperation. I dug myself a hole that was never-ending. Nothing in my life existed except my next bet and trying to make this all go away.
It was September 2018, and I was driving my partner, her mother, and their dog to the beach. The dog was to be put down that afternoon, and we were taking him for his last swim at his favourite spot. He wasn’t very old – lung cancer found him. It was a sad day for their family.
On the way to the beach, my dad called. In the past few weeks, every time I saw either of my parents call, my heart would sink. “They’ve found out” was always my first thought. This time, it was true. I heard it in his voice as soon as I answered. He named a horrifying amount of money, and he asked if I knew what had happened to it. He said he had just gone through hell with an accountant trying to figure out what had happened. With my partner and her mother in the car, I had to tell him I couldn’t explain now. He was freaking out – he never freaks out. I had to explain, calmly, with the others in earshot “I’ll call you as soon as I stop driving”.
We arrived and I called him back and told him that it was me. I promised to explain when I got home, but I couldn’t talk now because I had to be there for my partner and her family. Then, I had to hang up to the sound of my father, broken. And jog on ahead to catch up with the others, also broken. Internally, I had never felt more broken myself.
Days were long and tough for a while. I had never felt like a disappointment to my dad before, and this felt worse than that. I felt like a traitor. But we pushed forward. We tried to fix things together – my mum was going through her own battles at work and we wanted to make a start on my troubles before burdening her.
I started going to Gamblers Anonymous (GA) and reported back to my dad consistently. However, I kept gambling in secret. Some nights I would go to GA, and gamble in the bathroom at the intermission. Then I’d go home and tell my dad that it was a good session. Each piece of deception was sharp in my gut. It was a vicious cycle where my desperation led to gambling, which lead to shame, which led to more desperation.
I gambled until the beginning of 2019. Then, my dad and I came clean to my mum. I had betrayed her with my actions, but worse, I had dragged my dad into my world of deception, and now he was complicit. This was my rock bottom.
It was also the beginning of my recovery. Mum found a counsellor who I’ve seen for many years since, and I went to some more GA meetings. My parents and I worked through my finances together and I began a repayment plan, with no wiggle room. Financial independence had to be sacrificed for the time being.
The early days were tough. My urges to gamble weren’t difficult to overcome, but the shame of my actions continued to sink in. In my first counselling session which my parents both attended, my counsellor mentioned one thing that cut me deep. She said that an important part of my recovery would be to factor in little rewards for positive behaviours. When she said the word “reward”, I broke down. I did not deserve a reward. I could not wrap my head around that concept emotionally. Shame was an obstacle. But I had to understand it. I knew it was an important part of recovery and building healthy habits.
I was now accountable to and open with others. I developed discipline, started repaying my debts to the people I owed, and began working away at the larger debt to my parents. I had to learn that small steps were the most important. My fitness improved, my grades at uni too, along with my work ethic and my presence with friends and family. I was finding myself again.
Since then, my interests in horse racing and gambling on sport have gone. I enjoy sport for the sake of the sport for the first time in years. It is refreshing. And now more than ever, I choose not to gamble. I don’t say to myself “I can’t ever gamble again”. It’s simply a case of “I choose not to gamble”. There’s so much more
to life than to waste my time, money, energy, and emotions on it. I have deep gratitude for my life and my loved ones, and I’m able to put time and effort that I previously spent on gambling, into productive, fulfilling ventures such as sharing my story.
I have learned that recovery isn’t just stopping or managing a problem behaviour. It’s an ongoing process of improvement. When things were at their worst for me, the idea of being able to help others one day was what kept my spirit alive. Now I am able to do this through sharing my story through the Gambling Impact Society, as well as in my life generally. I’ve done podcasts, interviews, and presentations. I’ve run workshops and spoken to people from many walks of life. I am truly grateful that I am on the other side.
I now honour my mistakes through acceptance and growth.
Peter Marbey (name changed for privacy reasons)