Gambling gone pear-shaped

Pokies, horses, sports, cards or dice. Take your pick. The options available to you are endless. At any given time, in almost any given place you can gamble money. And it’s a growing issue around the country as more and more people fall into debt through excessive gambling.

Here’s the story of one local who fell into a vicious cycle. And for the good part of it was successful. Until it all went pear-shaped in a fortnight. He spoke to Matt Markham. His name is changed to protect his identity.


Jack is a forty-something-year-old from Ashburton.

He’s been around the traps. Knows a thing or two. And was a bit of a fan of a nibble on the nags.

And the dogs for that matter.

He wasn’t what you would have called an excessive, problem, gambler. At least initially. But he did love to have a bet.

And, he bet a lot. And then in one two-week spell it all went wrong.

In his own words, it’s borne from a life of spending a good portion of his childhood sitting outside a pub or TAB while his father spent his time inside backing “hopeless” chances at galloping meetings from Winton to the depths of Orange in Australia and trotters that the driver could hop out of the sulky and run faster than.

“He was a hopeless punter,” Jack said.

“It’s probably a good thing I don’t speak to him any more actually. In some ways I blame him for what I ended up becoming.

“And I know that sounds ridiculous, but I grew up knowing nothing better.”

Jack and his sisters would spend hours sitting in the old family car while their father tried to win back what he had already lost.

“If he had a win he’d bring us out something to eat and drink, and if he didn’t bring us anything we knew not to say a word on the way home because it usually meant he hadn’t won a dime.”

The trio of car-sitters would pass the time by engaging in their own form of gambling.

Potato chips were the currency and the subject was often what colour the next car to drive past them was going to be, which in hindsight, according to Jack really set the wheels in motion.

As time progressed and he grew older, Jack would be allowed inside the pub or TAB with his old man.

An experience he said made him feel far beyond his actual age.

“Here I was at say 15, sitting in the pub or TAB with him and I’d be picking out horses for him and his mates.

“I loved it, I felt older, more responsible. Ahead of my time I guess.”

You’ll often hear of people’s first gambling experience being a winning one. That casual fiver slipped through the tote window and returning a large multiple of its former self.

Jack’s tale of his first ever bet wasn’t one of those moments.

“I’d been mowing lawns for someone and had $5.

“So, I did a whole heap of homework and asked Dad to back it for me thinking I was the best thing since sliced bread.

“It ran down the track, in fact it’s probably still running to be honest, it went that horribly.”

That should have been it for Jack, but he lined up again the next week, five bucks in hand and again asked his father to back a selected horse.

“The next week I backed a winner. I think it paid about $12 and I had $5 to win on it so I was a pretty rich young kid.

“And from there I never really looked back. Every week I’d line up and have a crack, some weeks I would win and then other weeks I wouldn’t.

“Back then I just sort of rolled with the punches and took it from week-to-week.”

By his own admission, Jack never fully started gambling until he turned of legal age to punt away from the restrictions and watchful eye of his father.

“I’d spend all my spare time studying form and sitting down at the TAB or pub watching and betting.

“I’d win and punt bigger and if I lost, I’d punt smaller to try and build myself up a bit of kitty.

“It became a bit of a cycle for me, I’d walk in with $100 in my hand and have my first crack with half of it to try and get the ball rolling.

“Sometimes I’d get up to around $2000 and start playing it big, like bets of $400 at a time and more often than not it would be gone within half an hour because I would chase the big bucks even more.

“And this is when I was about 21.

“I didn’t care. I just wanted to win.”

By the time he turned 30, Jack was going reasonably big on the punt. But he’d restricted himself just to the weekend racing action.

Friday to Sunday – that was his holy time.

Without care or responsibilities as a bachelor with a good paying job, he could invest anywhere from $2000 to $5000 in two and a half days.

“I was never smart about it. Not for a long time anyway. I’d bet, I’d win and I’d blow it.

“There was no method other than the ruthless one in my eyes. If I spent $2000 over a weekend I wouldn’t even blink an eye for a long time, it just seemed inconsequential to me.”

Things continued along the same windy and turning path for another half of a decade before Jack hit rock bottom for the first time.

He’d had a couple of big collects. And by big we mean in the tens of thousands of dollars through taking exotic bets like trifectas.

He brought himself a new car with one lot of his winnings. Put down a deposit on a house with the other.

Life was good for a long time. He was on a roll, winning frequently and becoming quite the successful punter.

He found himself a partner.

That curbed the enthusiasm ever so slightly, but not for long and soon into the relationship he found himself making excuses to head down to the TAB for an hour or two.

“I was pretty good there for probably six months, I think at one stage I went three weeks without a bet.

“We were in the honeymoon stage of the relationship at that point and it was all about the fun so I never really even gave betting a second thought.

“But after a while the itch came back. And I’d sneak off down to the TAB or load up the account with a bit of money and have a go.”

One weekend things went particularly bad.

Jack blew $2500 on the Friday night, $5000 on the Saturday and then another $5000 on the Sunday afternoon.

“I think it was the biggest weekend of spending I did out of my bank account.

“I’d spent more in a weekend a lot of times, but it was always with money I’d won from the very same place.

“So, I never really noticed it not being there when Monday rolled around.”

Instead of cutting his losses and walking away, Jack went back the next weekend. Determined.

He was getting back what he’d lost the previous week and if he had to spend a bit to do it, that’s exactly what he was going to do.

Monday rolled around and Jack was out of pocket to the tune of $20,000. Plus, the $12,500 from the week before.

“For the first time ever, I didn’t know how I was going to pay my bills.

“So, I did what I thought I knew best and took a little bit more out and tried to win with that.

“I lost it too.

“All of a sudden I felt sick, and embarrassed. I didn’t really know what to do or who to talk to.”

He turned to an old family friend for advice and within 24 hours he was in his first counselling session with a local advice group who he said were fantastic.

“They didn’t judge me, they listened and sympathised and helped me to put plans in place to sort things out.

“But that wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part was telling my partner and seeing the look of pure shock in her eyes.

“She had no idea, she knew I followed racing closely and liked to have a bet here and there.

“But not to the extent that I was.”

Jack enlisted himself in problem gambling classes and slowly but surely edged away from the life he had known for so long.

There was one relapse, thankfully only to a very small extent.

And other than he hasn’t had a bet for the past four-and-a-half years.

“I look back on it all and wonder what the hell I was doing.

“With the job that I had and the money I was getting for it I could have been living a really good life by now.

“Instead I’ve had to start again and build myself back up.”

He’s not big on the advice giving, because he knows himself how hard it can be to listen to, especially if you are living in a bit of self-guilt.

“If you think you have a problem, then you most likely do have a problem.

“I’d find myself lying awake some nights dreaming about my next big win.

“Now, to me, that was a sure sign I had a problem.

“Find someone to talk to about it and start taking the right steps.

“It will be the best thing you ever do and the satisfaction of beating the urge to gamble is even better than the thrill of winning on the punt itself.”