My Gambling Therapy - Part 1
By Steve Anonymous
I shared this at my recent Gamblers Anonymous meeting so thought it was time to share it further afield.
My first memory of gambling was very early on when I was only 2 or 3 and my grandparents won the Daily Mirror Bingo prize of £30k which was a lot of money in the early 1980’s. maybe that big win sowed a seed in my head that one day I would get that big win???
Other early memories include having a bet on the grand national this was probably when I was 9/10 and always had £1 win on a favourite and a 50p E/W bet on an outsider and on a couple of occasions I had a winner in the early years.
One thing I was introduced to early on was playing cards formoney (coppers) and every Christmas we would play Queenie / Newmarket / Blackjack (Pontoon) / 13 card brag for hours as a family and this carried onto Saturday nights when we used to go out with friends and we would be playing cards for 5/10p for a good couple of hours as something to do and pass the time.
Obviously holidays at the seaside would mean going into the arcades and spending all my spending money on the slot machines. One time I went to Blackpool for the weekend with a friend and we both liked to play on the slots. I remember going into the first arcade and £10 was gone in a flash and then the next £10, soon my weekend budget was looking very tight but managed to drag myself out the arcade.
My best friend at school liked a bit of a gamble so we used to spend a bit of money together at the weekend on the football coupon with limited success. We also like to have a few bets on the horses and dogs and we used to have nights in at his house watching the horse/dog results come through on teletext. Sometimes he would be the bookie and take my bets but it was never massive amounts and just a bit of fun.
We started getting into playing cards at lunch time for money (loose change really) and even regularly in our maths lesson where the teacher didn’t really care we had a card school running at the back of the class (usually 3 card brag). Again I was funding this with my pocket money and the occasional bit of money I would borrow from my mum’s purse. I seemed to be pretty good or lucky in the early years and would usually be up at the end of the week but we were only talking a couple of quid.
When I was 14/15 the National Lottery started and my mum used to put me a line on and I’d win the occasional £10. I remember my brothers girlfriend early on got 5 numbers on the lottery and won a couple of thousand (which gave me hope). One of my friends also won £500 on a scratch card which I also wanted a piece of so I used to get my £5 spending money at the weekend and walk upto the local shop and buy 5 scratch cards (all or nothing), which on most occasions I lost everything or maybe won £1 but again I had my mums purse to fund me for the rest of the week.
I started refereeing football when I was 16 and went away with some friends to referee a kids football tournament at a holiday camp near Great Yarmouth one Easter. Unfortunately we turned up a day early by mistake so decided to head into Yarmouth and hit the arcades. It was the first time really I had gone into an arcade with a pocket full of money (about £100 which I had taken for the weeks spending money). Unfortunately it was burning a hole in my pocket and the £100 was frittered away very quickly on one afternoon. I now had no money for the rest of the week so had to borrow off one of my friends until we checked into the holiday camp and we got Food Vouchers as part of the package which I was able to use to fund my beer for the week.
My gambling developed during my time at university but still I was in control of it. Again it was mainly cards / fruit machines / football matches / nights out at the dogs, but there was a significant development at university where I found online gambling in 2000. I thought it was brilliant because I lived at the top of the hill and it was a good walk to the local bookies (plus in Sheffield it was always raining) so betting online had some initial benefits. The first time I set it up my best mate from school was over visiting so we put a few bets on the horses and then went out for a few beers. When I logged on the next day to check my account we must have had a couple of good winners as had about £50 in my account which was a bonus – easy money I thought. This was the beginning of the rise of internet gambling which got me hooked as it was like the money wasn’t real and it could all be done in secret from my bedroom with no-one else knowing. I couldn’t see myself walking into a bookies with a wad of cash and blowing it all but online you couldn’t easy keep track of your losses at easy it was just download more funds please…..
I managed to get through university and graduated in July 2001 with a moderate amount of debt, I wasn’t really worried about my student loan as that would get paid back over a length of time when I got a good job but I was left with an overdraft and credit card debt of about £2000, but i also had an ISA with £500 in which I was saving for a rainy day.
I started work in September 2001, the salary wasn’t great but was nice to earning a regular monthly salary so I could start to pay some of my debts off and start planning for a holiday. Like I said earlier internet gambling was starting to take off and I remember seeing an advert for Victor Chandler where they would match initial stake upto £50. This is giving money away I thought so I signed up deposited £50 and put it on the roulette on red/black (can’t remember which) but it won which I though was great, easy money again and maybe a few more wins and I could pay my student debts off.
My gambling then started to be more frequent and naturally the stakes started to increase. A couple of weeks later I was back on the online roulette but this time I thought I could put £100 on, double it with one spin and then I would have £100 worth free bets. This time unfortunately it lost so I deposited another £100 and went on the same colour (black I think). Lost again….another £100 = same result. Think I got to £600 before I managed to stop myself and say enough is enough but this should have been an early warning indicator but unfortunately it was only the start of things to come. All this was done in secret and obviously I never told anyone I’d had a big loss, I’d occasionallymention when I had a decent win and my mates thought I was quite a lucky gambler!! I used a similar strategy on blackjack where I would deposit between £50-£200 and place it all on the deal of a few cards. Sometimes it worked but 80% of the time it didn’t. Didn’t stop me trying the same thing the next time though and again and again. This is the insanity of compulsive gambling where you try the same thing day after day ‘against a computer’ and expect to get different results???
Don’t get me wrong I did have some successful bets but all they did was fuel the addiction and made me want more. Over a period of 3-6 months my gambling progressed from normal gambling to compulsive gambling and the money I had been saving in my ISA was quickly frittered away online. I never asked to cross that invisible line but once over it there was no going back to normal controlled gambling. I was on the slippery slope of addiction and it was getting progressively worse.
I was still living at home at the time so I used to have to hide all my bank / credit card statements from my mum and she used to work in a bank so she was always good at managing finances and always keen to pass the message on. Years later should told me she said she noticed how I used to hide all my statements as when I was younger I would just leave them lying around the house as I had nothing to hide then. I also used to hide the cheques I used to get from Victor Chandler when I occasionally won and downloaded the funds. Many times I had spent my winnings before I had chance to cash the cheque.
One gambling session that sticks out is when I used to play online poker as I thought I was a good player. I used to go on the small stake tables £1/2 and try and bluff all the time, going all in when I had nothing which sometimes worked. On this occasion I had started with £100 and got down to my last £5 but somehow managed to get back upto £500. Any normal person would have walked away but I thought I was on a lucky streak so went onto another table but this time the stakes were £5/10 and quickly I had turned £500 into over £1000 and was thinking of the things I was going to buy with that money – a new pair of football boots / new TV / new stereo. Then I thought if I had turned £5 into £1000 (within a couple of hours) then I could turn £1000 into tens of thousands by the end of the night and then I could buy a new car / book a holiday / pay off my debts etc. So I decided to go onto the £25/50 table where my £1000 lasted about 10 minutes and I suddenly went from hero to zero which absolutely did my head in and left me with a sick feeling in my stomach with the thought of what I had let slip away.
I don’t recall the exact details of the bets I put on this one day but i remember it being a dark day (probably the worst I can remember as a gambler). By this stage my debts were mounting, I had a £3000 bank loan and 2 credit cards with significant debt on them. My stakes had increased in an attempt to get that big win that would fix everything and I was constantly on the hamster’s wheel trying to chase my losses.I remember placing 3 big bets within the space of 5 minutes, spending approximately £2500 on my credit card (which was more than 2 months wages) , when shortly after it was Natwest bank ringing me to say there had been some suspicious activity on my Credit Card but embarrassingly I had to confirm it was me who had made the transactions and I think I remember asking them if they could block me using the card on gambling sites and they said there was nothing they could do. This made me feel even worse than I already did for losing that amount of money on such a short space of time as the bets all lost. I had just dug myself a bigger hole and was finding it harder and harder to get my finances in order. I often thought should I tell my girlfriend or parents but didn’t know how the approach the subject with them and in the back of my mind I didn’t have a problem and if I hit a lucky streak or get that big win I may be able to pay my debts off and they would be none the wiser.
Unfortunately as my gambling debts grew, so did my desperation and I was gambling on anything. Online betting gave me access 24/7 and even when I was on holiday I would make an excuse and regularly nip down to the local internet café to try and win the money back I had paid for the holiday. I remember it was July 2002 and we were in Gran Canaria and it was the middle of Wimbledon and the World Cup. It was a rare time I actually won which only wanted me to go back more often and bet. Instead of spending time with my girlfriend in the sun I would rather lie to her and go and sit in front of the computer and bet on Tim Henman winning 3 sets to 1 or the next person to be out in the test match cricket.
As soon as my credit card got up to the limit I would open another card and do an interest free balance transfer but I never closed down my other credit cards so eventually I had 5 credit cards on the go and a £3k loan on top. By this stage my girlfriend had now finished university and had started working as a teacher and a lot of our friends had started getting on the property ladder. My girlfriend was keen to do the same now she was working but I was less keen knowing the state of my finances and having a mortgage was a long term commitment that would be difficult to sustain alongside my gambling habit. So I kept trying to put her off to give myself a bit more time to sort things out.
My state of mind was in turmoil and couldn’t see a way out of the mess I was getting myself into. I could not find the courage to admit I had a problem to anyone close to me or even myself. With this secret addiction I was living with, no-one was likely to find me out......
My work started to suffer as my head was only thinking about gambling whilst I was there. I was working as much overtime as I could as my salary wasn’t great but I never saw the benefits of that money as soon as I got my Monthly Salary it was usually gone in a weekend. This level of gambling was not sustainable and on a number of occasions my thoughts on the 1 hour commute home from work up the Motorway turned to shall I just end it all here and now as I couldn’t face up to the mess I was in and the misery my gambling was causing me on the inside. Suicidal thoughts were rare but definitely considered it as an escape from the addiction and debt. On the outside I could put on a brave face but inside I was getting to breaking point especially with my girlfriend pushing me to look at houses and wanting to go and see the mortgage advisor at the bank. My secret was about to be exposed!
I thought it would be a good idea to consolidate the 5 credit cards and get a loan instead so I got a £10k loan from Tesco (just like that) with the intention of paying off my credit cards as thought this would make my debt look more respectable if it was just 1 payment a month. I never got chance to pay of the credit cards with the loan but fortunately for me this was a good thing.
The week had come where my partner had finally pinned me down to seeing the mortgage advisor at the Halifax on a Saturday and I was unsure how the week was going to pan out. My focus at work was completely shot and by Wednesday I was thinking I need to tell her everything that night. I felt physically sick at work that day so made some excuses and left at lunchtime. I needed to put some last bets on the Football to try and win a chunk of my debts back. I will always remember this bet because it turned out to be my last one for a number of years. £150 at odds of 40-1, I think I knew it would never come in but still had to go through the motion of putting it on and for a few hours until kick off I had a little bit of hope. Plan B was to nip into town and buy my partner an engagement ring as thought this would soften the blow when I tell her about my gambling / debts.
I can’t remember how I actually broached the subject back then on the night of 26th February 2003, but I plucked up enough courage to bleed my problems all over my partner which left her totally shocked and devastated . I wasn’t sure what the outcome was going to be, but I begged for help as I was out of control and produced the engagement ring to show how committed I was too her. Obviously this was every woman’s dream proposal which I feel bad for now, but it seemed to give us both a chink of light at the end of a dark long tunnel.
She went home that night and said she would sleep on it and speak to her mum about it. The next day I phoned in sick at work as I needed to go round to my girlfriend/fiancé’s house to see if we had a future or not. My mum obviously noticed something was up that morning so I had to tell her the situation I was in which wasn’t easy going through it all again. I remember she said that I looked like I was showing some remorse about it so that was a good sign if things were going to change.
Luckily for me my girlfriend decided not to run a mile and instead she would support me with my recovery. I admitted to her I needed help as I couldn’t just stop on my own accord. She got me the phone number for Gamblers Anonymous and I gave them a call. I spoke to a friendly guy who gave me the details about a meeting at Nottingham on the Sunday night.
We spent the rest of the day trying to sort my finances out which started by paying back the £10k loan as I was still within the 14 day cooling off period. I would say my girlfriend probably paid 50% of my debt off but we agreed to get my wages paid into her account from then on. The rest I would pay back each month and suddenly the light at the end of the tunnel was brighter and it felt like a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders as I didn’t have to lie and cover things up anymore.
So it came to my first Gamblers Anonymous meeting on the Sunday night, I was very nervous as I didn’t know what to expect. As I was walking into the building where the meeting was I bumped into another person who was also there for the first time which helped me relax slightly. I listened to the other members and their stories until it was time for me to speak and tell the group why I had come to the meeting. There was probably between 8-10 other members so a relatively small group but I remember getting quite emotional as I told my story to 9 total strangers but they didn’t judge me and gave me some valuable advice which I was determined to take on board. I remember coming out of that GA meeting feeling a lot more positive and was great to listen to other people who had been through the same things as me (and a lot worse in some cases).
GA became the Sunday night routine for me and think I must have done over 50 meetings in my first year which flew by. My life had turned around very quickly and my partner and I had officially got engaged and we had bought our first house together. Although I was regularly attending GA to work on my recovery I was conscious that my best friend (and former gambling acquaintance) was in the dark about the severity of my problem and the fact that I now attended GA. Obviously I had to tell him and my friends at football that I didn’t gamble anymore as gambling was a big part of the weekend football culture but they mostly made a joke out of it. I didn’t mind though as at least they stopped asking me to join in with gambling related stuff.
Now I was free from gambling, my job was starting to get more focus and I started to plan out the next steps in my career which really took off when I got a new job at the end of 2004. The rest is history and today I feel very privileged for the job I do now and how I have got here, because if I had still been gambling I 100% wouldn’t be the successful Manager I am today. GA definitely helped me in those early days develop my self-confidence and when I plucked up enough courage after about 6 months to chair my first meeting and I got a real buzz from it. I’ve always said in GA, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. But chairing the meetings and sharing things with other members helped me in my job too and suddenly I didn’t feel as nervous at work giving presentations to people and running meetings with Senior Directors so I have to thank GA for that.
I got married in 2006 and was over 3 years clean from gambling by then and my dark gambling days were becoming a distant memory. It was about this time that I took over the secretary’s job at Nottingham. This gave me added responsibility and gave me more of a reason to come to the meetings as I had all the literature for new members and had to organise all the pins and open meetings. It felt good putting more into GA.
2008 was a significant year for me, in the January we found out my wife was expecting our first child and in February I got to 5 years gambling free. I had started to get complacent and was going to less meetings as I got to 5 years and I was starting to make excuses about the meetings going a bit stale. I decided the hand over the secretary’s job as I didn’t want to feel as guilty about not turning up, but as soon as I did this I had less of a reason to attend.
In October 2008 my daughter Lily was born and it was the best feeling in the world (especially adding to the fact that I wasn’t gambling at the time). I threw myself into fatherhood and enjoyed the precious moments you get when they are young babies. I think I went back to GA one or two more times in the next 6 months and then I consciously decided (or the addiction inside me decided) not to go anymore as I thought I would be alright on my own – I knew all the theory and my barriers were still in place, however I maybe forgot that the biggest barrier is going to the meeting and my complacency was going to come back and haunt me.
My name is Steve and I'm a compulsive gambler.
Part 2 to follow next week.....