John* has seen his life transform after seeking help for a gambling addiction.
The 67-year-old said he had had an almost lifelong problem with gambling, but that changed a couple of years ago after he saw a card in a venue advertising the Gambler’s Help service, delivered by Anglicare Victoria.
With the Bendigo Cup on Wednesday and the Melbourne Cup just around the corner, the community is reminded there is such assistance available for those experiencing problems with gambling.
John’s exposure to gambling began at an early age: he remembers going to the greyhound, horse and harness races with his father when he was a child.
A young John would even go to the track alone and look for a friendly older face to place a bet for him.
He left school at 15 to become an apprentice jockey to a leading Victorian trainer and spent his adult life in racing, both as a jockey and as a trainer, which, unbeknownst to him, fuelled his problem.
Gambler’s Help offers help to people like John, who are struggling with their own addiction, as well as those affected by the gambling of others.
John said his support worker, Mark, shone a light on the “fantasy” he had been living, educating him on gambling systems and how they were set up to beat the punter.
He said that being in racing he thought he had inside knowledge and was “smarter than the average bloke”, but had realised that was part of the fantasy that propped up his addiction.
“I know without Gambler’s Help, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” John said.
Tracey Grinter, case management services manager at Anglicare Victoria, said problem gambling had a range of potential consequences.
Financial hardship, psychological distress and mental health issue such as depression and anxiety, a higher risk of suicide and self harm, social isolation, and secretive or deceptive behaviours are among the other issues that can arise from problem gambling.
In John’s experience, gambling can push people to lie and cheat, lose friends and live in denial; he speaks about the misery he inflicted on himself.
He said that while he now lived a comfortable life, he had squandered millions of dollars on bets over the years.
John recalled when he first called the Gambler’s Help number, the woman on the other end spoke to him about what it would be like just to have enough money in his pocket to buy a coffee.
“That was so significant for me, because even if I had bundles of money in my pocket, it was all for gambling,” he said.
Ms Grinter said gambling was also often associated with other problems: about 50 per cent of people with a gambling problem have also experienced family violence, as either a victim or perpetrator, and about 20 per cent also have a problem with alcohol or drugs.
Last financial year, Anglicare Victoria helped 462 people in the Loddon Mallee region, but the true extent of the problem could be much larger: Ms Grinter said research indicated that just one in 10 people with a gambling problem sought help.
She said the demographic of people who experienced gambling problems was wide, but in recent times there had been an increase in the number of people aged between 25 and 35, particularly male, seeking help.
The rise of online gambling was a prominent factor in this trend, she said, because of its accessibility, and the promotion of gambling during sports broadcasts also played a role.
Anyone experiencing difficulties with their gambling, or concerned about the gambling of a family member or friend, can contact Anglicare Victoria’s Gambler’s Help for free confidential advice on 1800 244 323.
More information and support can be found at online at the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.
If you are experiencing psychological distress, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
*Name has been changed