Confession: My Brother Was A Problem Gambler

Confession: My Brother Was A Problem Gambler
Carly Jacobs
This post is sponsored by Problem Gambling NSW

When I got an email from my agents saying that Problem Gambling NSW wanted to work with me on their new campaign, I agreed immediately. I share quite a bit on my blog but I’m very protective of my family and I very rarely write about ‘serious’ personal stuff. I thought this was the perfect time to talk about how problem gambling has directly affected my family. My brother Ryan used to be a problem gambler. I asked Ryan if he’d mind if I used his story, anonymously of course. He said he didn’t want his story to be told anonymously because he overcame an addiction and that’s definitely something he wants to put his name to. How rad is that? Here’s a chat that I had with him about his problem gambling and how he overcame it. He’s actually quite incredible, it happened so long ago that I forgot what an achievement it is for him to refrain from giving in to his addiction.  I really hope that it will help other problem gamblers face their addiction and get the help they need because it truly is possible to recover from a gambling addiction. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

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When did you start gambling?

Towards the end of year 12 when I was about 18. My mates and I used to go to the club after school and we’d have a bit of a gamble. We didn’t spend much but it was a rite of passage kind of thing. It didn’t get really bad until I was an apprentice plumber when I was about 20 years old. 

What was your favourite form of gambling?

Pokies at the club on weekends and then it got really bad when I was at tech. There was a club around the corner from tech and we used to go there on our lunch breaks. I also dabbled in online gambling but I kicked that habit pretty quickly, I preferred the pokies.

When did you start gambling alone?

I never actually went gambling alone but I definitely gambled alone – I always went with mates but I’d hide how much I was putting into the machines. I’d duck around a corner and play a different machine or I’d come back in half an hour with a different group of mates so the first group wouldn’t know I was about to feed another couple of hundred dollars into the pokies. At the time I was an apprentice plumber and earning about $180 a week so I didn’t have a cent to spare but I thought playing the pokies was a good way to get extra money. I had a credit card with a $500 limit and every few months the limit would get raised until it was at $6000. I’d walk across the road to get cash advances on my credit card because the club wasn’t allowed to give cash from credit cards. I’d get $500 at a time and then I’d win $2000, pay off the card, play some more, win, then lose, win, then lose. I never ended up on top but I guess that was the point.

Did you drink or do drugs at the same time as gambling?

I’d have a couple of beers because it was a social thing but I’d often play the pokies completely sober, it wasn’t about the drinking for me it was about the gambling. 

When did you start to feel like it was becoming a problem?

When I was running out of money way too quickly and the interest on the credit card debt was more than I was earning per week. I was in serious trouble and I knew it. I broke down one night in my room and just cried. I knew I’d really fucked up. 

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What finally made you decide to seek help?

It got to a point where I couldn’t handle the financial burden and I couldn’t afford to put petrol in the car or buy food. I knew that I couldn’t get out of debt on my own and that if I didn’t get help right then it would only get worse and worse. I was only about 21 years old and I really didn’t want to start my adult life with a giant debt that I couldn’t pay off. 

Where did you go to seek help?

I went to my parents and told them that I fucked up. They cut up the credit card straight away on the spot. They helped me budget to pay back my debt and they took control of my finances to make sure it got paid. My mother would take $100 per week out of $180 wage and diligently pay back the credit card debt. It took about 6 years to pay it off. 

How did you stop gambling?

I stopped for 2 full years without gambling. I removed myself from the club scene for a long time and now, almost a decade later, I’ll occasionally pop $20 through the pokies if I happen to be in a club. I’m completely in control of my gambling now. My mindset has changed. I used to put $20 through the machines and think ‘I’m going to turn this into $2000.’ Now I put $20 through the machines and think ‘I’m spending $20 on some fun and enjoyment and I’m never going to see it again.’ It really stops you from running back to the ATM again and again like problem gambling does. 

Did any of your friends know? 

They do now, I don’t know if they knew at the time. I know one of my mates knew and used to question me and I’d try to hide it from him. I thought gambling would be a really easy way to make money but it took a while to sink in that all it did was take my money. I won $500 on the first pokie machine that I ever played and I only played for 10 minutes. I thought it was much easier to gamble than to work for a living. I was very, very wrong about that. 

What would you say was the hardest thing about stopping gambling?

It was harder to tell my parents than it was to actually stop. It was humiliating having to admit that I wasted all that money. Telling my parents meant that I had to deal with it and start paying it back. The act of telling people was awful but once it was over I felt so much lighter because I could actually face the problem. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if I didn’t tell my parents when I did because I definitely wouldn’t have stopped. I needed them to support me and supervise me while I got my life back together because I just wasn’t strong enough at that point to do it myself. 

Have you ever had a relapse? 

No. It’s not worth going through that again, 5 or 6 years of being in debt and paying back twice the amount I borrowed is crap. Having to pay half my pay wage every week to a useless debt and having no independence was really shit. I’d never go back to doing that again. It’s almost ten years later and I have a house, a partner and a daughter now and I would never do anything to jeopardise that. My partner is well aware of my gambling addiction and she’s also a counsellor so I’m in pretty good hands. [Note from Carly: My sister-in-law yelled out in the background that if he ever gambled them into debt, she’d rip his nuts off. Good plan.)

Any advice for problem gamblers?

Get help in any way you can. You won’t be able to do it on your own and even though it will humiliate you and make you feel like a failure at the time, every day that you don’t admit you have a problem, it’s only going to get worse. Even though it felt shit at the time, it’s the best thing I could have done.  

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I think the main issue with gambling in Australia is that it’s widely accepted as a ‘normal’ activity and is viewed as being part of a healthy social life. Think about meeting people for drinks at registered clubs, having nights out at the casino or going to the races. This is why it’s so difficult when gambling becomes a problem. Problem gambling is defined by destructive behaviours. This could mean people spending more money than they have, neglecting their family, lying to their spouse or parents and losing their job or home. It’s estimated that only 8% to 17% of people with gambling problems seek professional help and it’s usually only when they’ve hit absolute rock bottom and are in a crisis.

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It is possible to get out of gambling debt and turn your life around. I watched my brother do it. It was hard work but he did it and we’re all so proud of him. He reached a fork in the road and he had two choices and he picked the right one.

The purpose of this post is to empower problem gamblers and their families to make that first big step towards recovery. Here are a few things you can do.

1. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au – (all Gambling Help services through NSW problem gambling are free)

2. Post a comment below (anonymously) and ask any questions you like and I’ll have them answered by a problem gambling professional

3. Email me hello@smaggle.com and I’ll send your question through to the NSW problem gambling social media forum where it will be answered by a problem gambling professional

Please do pass this post on to anyone who may need it. Problem gamblers really are stronger than they think and seeking help is the perfect opportunity to show everyone what they’re made of.

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If there’s anything you’d like to say or if you’ve got a story to share, go for it in the comments.

 

Talking about it is the first step.

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27 Comments

  1. Christine 6 years ago

    What an inspiring story. Well done Ryan. My daughter’s ex boyfriend is a professional sportsman – gambling and drinking are totally ingrained in that culture. It broke their relationship in the end.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      Thank you! I’ll pass that on to him. It’s interesting he actually has a very addictive personality but he has extraordinary will power. He also quit smoking, cold turkey and no relapses. He’s a legend. Mr Smaggle has a friend who’s a professional poker player and it’s just not a sustainable lifestyle. I just think gambling is so nasty. I put $1 in the pokie machines once on my 18th birthday and never went near them again.

  2. KellyNH 6 years ago

    After working in hospitality in my younger years, I seen a lot of people that couldn’t afford it, there every day, all day. Pokie machines and the set up of the venues also create a zombie effect on patrons. Its a sad thing to see. Your brother should be so proud of himself, and Im really appreciative of his honesty.
    Education on addiction in its many forms should be a subject broached in the later years in schooling, just like Home-Ec. I know schools have a lot to fit in, but life skills are so important also, and sadly its one of the things kids just don’t want to hear from their parents. It has more impact from an ex-addict.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      That’s so true! When I was in high school we had a very progressive vice principal who had a speed addict come in and talk to us year 12s about how he would steal from his parents, how he’d score, how his girlfriend has died of an OD right after she gave birth to their son. It was fascinting. She got in heaps of trouble but it’s one of the few things I actually remember about school. I’m so glad he agreed to be a part of this campaign – it’s really important and the response has been great!

  3. nessbow 6 years ago

    I am in awe of your brother’s courage. Not only has he battled and beaten an addiction, but he’s shared his story so openly. I’ve never really understood why gambling would become a problem for people, but I feel as though I’ve got a better understanding of it now. Thank you and well done to Ryan.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      You know it’s funny you should say that, because at the time I didn’t get it either but doing the interview with his was really eye opening and it made me realise how easy it is to slip into that pattern. It actually made perfect sense.

  4. Sian 6 years ago

    Wow – huge props to your brother for admitting he had a problem and having the guts to do something about it. I hate gambling. The whole pokie culture in Australian pubs and clubs is horrendous. And don’t get me started on Casinos. I refer to them as Profiteers from Human Misery. We have even been to Las Vegas now five times (for work, not by choice) and I have never once gambled. It just Does Not Interest Me. I occasionally stump up a few dollars for a powerball ticket but that’s as crazy as I get.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      I’m so proud of him for sharing his story publicly. I didn’t even consider asking him to do it non-anonymously but he said that the message would be stronger with a real person behind it. I hate gambling too. For a variety of reasons. There’s no skill in it, it prays on people who can’t afford it and the animal cruelty from dog racing and horse racing really upsets me.

  5. Anonymous 6 years ago

    My father had a gambling addiction that was really bad. He has adhd along with an addictive personality so it was really hard for him to stop. Unfortunately we have never been in a good financial position so mum eventually had to take control of all the finances. She gave dad an allowance every week (started at $60) and money for petrol. Other than that he had no access to money. He’s gotten a lot better although still on an allowance but higher now. It really is a difficult thing and mum despises the gambling culture in Australia because of it.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      Your mum sounds awesome. That must be really tough for her. I used to work with a women who had to do the same thing for her husband, it’s just heart breaking. There’s a guy in Canberra who hangs around outside the Casino and he’s the same. He’s actually very wealthy (inheritance) but his family have frozen his finances and give him an allowance so he doesn’t waste it all. It’s just heart breaking.

  6. merilyn 6 years ago

    a heartening post carly! that takes amazing determination and what great parents you have! they had the strength to stand by him, when he was certainly doing it tough! …
    good on him! … it has taken amazing courage for him to be open and honest about his addiction! hopefully it helps someone else! … love m:)X

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      There’s been such a great response, I’m so glad everyone has responded so beautifully to it and I do hope his story inspires other people to take postiive steps too. Thank you!

  7. Tahlia Meredith 6 years ago

    Amazing post! Your brother had so much courage to own up to his situation and approach your parents (who in turn handled it terrificly by the sounds of it). He should be so proud of himself for that and for doing the hard yards to get out of the situation and the debt. And thank you both for sharing!

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      Thanks love! It was a tough one but we’ve had such a brilliant response. Yes my parents are pretty amazing… I do think that most people are though if you give them chance. 🙂

  8. AJ 6 years ago

    I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news here but….. Whilst taking that first step was difficult (telling parents etc) it will be in vain if your brother doesn’t stop kidding himself that he can gamble at all. I am a compulsive gambler and given the short story I’ve just read your brother is too but sounds like he doesn’t know it yet. Took me 20 years to really understand this and although a decade has passed (for your brother) seemingly under control it will only get worse incrementally, slowly until rock bottom is reached again. As I said this can take a very long time to realise and your brother would most likely be very good at covering his tracks, so you’d never even know. He has been relapsing every time he puts even $1 in those machines. I attend Gamblers Anonymous and tried many other things before it none of which worked. If you ever need to give advice to your brother about his gambling Gamblers Anonymous is the best suggestion you could make. I can’t predict the outcome here but alarm bells are ringing that your brother will find himself having another conversation regarding big losses unless he wakes up and stops completely. Gambling is a lifelong illness which has no cure but once the realisation is made working at abstinence is the only solution. It’s up to the individual how hard they want to work to stop gambling completely. Sorry but tough love is the only thing that will work here.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 6 years ago

      Thanks so much for this AJ, I really appreciate you taking the time to share this. As you said neither of us can predict the outcome here but when he said occasionally he meant like if one of his mates has a birthday at the casino so he’s probably only gambled about 3 or 4 times since paying back his debt ten years ago. Everyone has different experiences and he’s worked really hard and honestly isn’t in danger of a relapse – I realise that he/I may have worded that part of the interview so it sounded like he was regularlay gambling when he’s not – we’d know if he was his partner is totally in charge of the house hold bank accounts and he can’t even buy KFC without her questioning it! Well done on your hard work and again thank you so much for posting this – I really appreciate it and it’s fantastic for you to take the time to point this out – it’s really important for problem gamblers to support each other. x

  9. AJ 6 years ago

    For you, your brother and your families sake I hope I’m wrong and wish you all the best.

  10. Anon 6 years ago

    Tough love – ” [Note from Carly: My sister-in-law yelled out in the background that if he ever gambled them into debt, she’d rip his nuts off. Good plan.)”

  11. poppy 6 years ago

    I had a friend who for ages used to go out on a friday night and ‘lose his wallet’, I knew this because he’d be on the phone to me early Saturday morning to ask if he could borrow money to pay his rent. I had recently left a relationship and was really struggling financially so never had more than $20-40 left over after I’d paid my rent, bills and bought food. I was walking 12kms to walk because I couldn’t afford public transport. I chose not to apply for a credit card as I couldn’t afford one, and he tried pushing me in to it so that I could take cash advances on his behalf. I spent an evening once watching him gamble and realised he had a serious issue – he just kept feeding $100 after $100 in to the machine like it was a hungry child. It was so sad to see, I realised that he wasn’t losing his wallet but more the contents in it to gambling and was risking his own roof over his head without thinking seriously about the consequences. He went once to GA and decided it ‘wasn’t his bag’ and I stopped being friends with him at about that point – I couldn’t bear the pain of watching him put himself through such misery with such disregard for the consequences. It was the lies he told too – not just to me, but to everyone he thought he could get cash out of. I thought his friends walking away from him might propel him in to action but nada. He just didn’t appear to care. I feel guilty from time to time, but I don’t know what more I could have done. He’d argue his way out of every honest conversation about it – often defensively – often dredging up horrible things to say in retaliation. I heard from a friend in common recently and ten years later he hasn’t changed at all. Makes me cry that does. If he’d really given stopping a red hot go – he’d have a deposit on a house by now.

  12. Anonymous 6 years ago

    I worked in a club in Burwood Sydney. I remembered on very old man in his 80’snwho would come to the club every day non stop to gamble no less than 12 hours a day till 3 in the morning. one day he called me for help. He said to me that he has a problem. His wife would not let him sell the house. I asked him why do you want to sell the house. He said I have no more cash and I want to continue gambling. I listened to all he had to say. I then went to the manager of the club office immediately. The manager of the club said to me it is not my problem go back to work. I felt so bad and it still haunts me as today. I also experience another problem in a club in Menai. A customer comes in ever lunch time to gamble. I was door person at the time. He went to the money machine to get some money out. the machine took his card. He came to me to ask for the club manager. I got the manager. He said to the manager that he would like to burrow $5 to get the bus home because the machine took the card. The manager refuse to help him with the $5 to get home. I offered the $5 dollars and the manager told me off. You would not believe who this club represents in the heaven. I would never work in a club again. I swear what I said is true.

  13. AJ 6 years ago

    Yes Poppy that story is a sad one but ultimately you shouldn’t feel bad because he needs to have hardship come from his gambling not just financially. Losing friends and family will push a person to do something about their problem so in a way you may be inadvertently helping them. I hear the same stories as the one you have just mentioned every week. These people are good people but have lied, cheated, stolen and in some cases been incarcerated as a result of gambling. Anyone who is prepared to work on this defect in character has hope and it’s never too late.

  14. tina 6 years ago

    Problem is there’s bloody pokies on every corner which doesn’t help weak people like my husband! Yes as I always say to him “you can lead a horse to water but u can’t make it drink”. These people have a problem much like a drug addiction. The government makes alot of money on the backs of families who live this nightmare (and I know that for a fact!). Let’s leave pokies in the casinos and not on every corner!

  15. Susan Wells 6 years ago

    It sounds like your brother caught his problem early.My ex husband is a compulsive gambler.After losing property and businesses,controlling the money,GA and Gamanon for me I realised I just didn’t want to do it any more.If you put them “on an allowance” they can find money other ways..secret post boxes,,secret credit cards,stealing from work and always the lies.Good luck!

  16. Susan Wells 6 years ago

    PS pokies aren;t the culprit.My husband found SP bookies.they will just gamble other ways.

  17. Dave 6 years ago

    Your brother did the most important thing he could do..He recognised he had a problem at the tender age of 21, and at a point where he already realised his debt by that stage became unmanageable for his income. The key point is the youthful age he come to his senses, because in my case it wasn’t for about a further 20+ years down the track. But the zombie-like state pokies can put a person in is just astonishing, and i cannot explain how in my case it took 15 years of playing and losing on them to come to terms that it’s just totally destructive to every aspect of my life.

    I earn a good wage, but work about 65 hours a week to get it, and have done so for a few years. But even with my mortgage for a couple of years i’d still go into the pokies and play. Perhaps being single, the fact that nobody else was affected kind of self-absolved my sense of responsibility. Also, the losing constantly would make my sense of self-worth so low, that it was like punishment i deserved for being so bad at pokie playing. I’ve been on ‘Gamblinghelponline.org’ for a year, and it was only in April this year that i came to my senses, that my credit card debts were about equal to my mortgage payment as well, and after those, i barely had enough to cover anything else.

    Unlike many, i rarely had significant wins much at all, indeed never in the time the payment of a $1000 win by cheque came in did i ever collect a cheque. Didn’t come close in fact. I look back and think of things in a rational way. LIke when i played pokies over that length of time, with probably millions and millions of spin events, i never once got the 5 wilds on a pay-line. So not once did i win something, that playing say even a 1c bet on a 50 line game, would net you at best say $300. Crazy isn’t it…..For so long i’d foolishly convince myself the machine would have to pay out, that it was due to have the feature. So i’d stay around, stay on it, and just continue to lose. Then curse myself as i leave with an empty wallet and an empty heart, empty dreams, and devoid of any self esteem.

    I’d talk to myself when doing my delivery job, where i would have a couple of hours to myself, and finally must have hit that spot in the brain that would almost turn off your sense of control and rationalisation with regards to my gambling. I’d contrast how stupid it would be to feed 50’s into the pokies, yet go to a supermarket and buy the mince steak for $3 instead of the scotch fillet for $5.50 because it saved the couple of bucks. I’d be so parsimonious with all of my actual spending on real things, yet be absolutely mindless in feeding the machines, The whole situation is so remarkable in it’s craziness. I always worked for my money and never resorted to taking it off anyone, or anything like that, but to realise that i work so hard for so long, yet spend it on something so useless and so devoid of purpose…..and it’s something probably all bad gamblers realise too late.

    I guess in one sense, being late is much better than never, i have not touched a pokie since April this year, and never plan to go near the wretched things again. They may be fine and dandy for many people, but once they may get you to put another note in to chase what you’d put in…that’s the warning bell. I read an article somewhere which described the pokies as having the same affect on a human as a machine which dispensed a reward to a mouse. It would either give food or an electric shock, but despite the machine maybe giving one helping of food for every 5-6 shocks, the mouse would continue to hit the button because the reward affected a little node in the brain. That’s probably what causes an addiction, except in our case it’s the buzz of the feature and the lure/hope of winning money. But the cold reality is, they don’t pay. Maybe if you hop on and get the feature early, you grab the win and go. But stay on them, and feed them, it’s a curse that will eventually cost you almost everything.

    This story of your bother resonates passionately with me, and certainly he has done so well with his life to recover and have a house and family 10 years later. In my 40’s now, it’s simply head down and bum up, and work until the damage is undone. That’s going to take a hell of a long time, but the alternative is unpalatable.

  18. Raquel 4 years ago

    I have a galling problem. I confessed to my husband two years again after he received our bank statement and noticed many casino transactions. I can’t sleep at night because of the gilt. I thought I could stop gambling on my own but failed terribly. I feel like I need to confess again but very afraid of hurting or worst losing him. I don’t know what to do, please help. How do I start the conversation

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