by Fred Rubinstein
My dad was smart. He had businesses – first, the Australian Jewish News, which his family brought out from Poland, and then a printing press – but he was also what I consider a semi-professional gambler. He bet on horses.
Dad was very sensible, but he had bipolar disorder. I’ve come to realise that bipolar and gambling can go hand in hand, because it’s all about the highs and lows of life. This is something I was exposed to from a young age. Dad passed away from cancer when I was 13.
A strange routine
I barely made it through school. I was naughty; getting in trouble, suspended, expelled. When I finished school – which I’m very proud of – I started university, but it wasn’t for me.
With a big inheritance and no structure, no real transition from school, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I developed a routine: the casino from midnight until 8 am, playing roulette, baccarat, blackjack, poker, you name it, then sleeping all day, when I wasn’t gambling on anything and everything online.
All I wanted to do was win.
I was mostly losing, and that was the hardest thing to accept, because I thought I was good, ahead of the curve. All I wanted to do was win. Dad had been intelligent and patient and done alright for himself, but I wasn’t a winner. I completely lost control. I became depressed and put on a lot of weight. Over 2015, I gambled away my inheritance: a quarter of a million dollars. Dad lost when he was young, too, but he could never have lost what I did in such a short time, because gambling wasn’t as accessible then as it is today.
The breaking point
My friends gambled, too, but I was more obsessive than them, I took it to every extreme. I don’t think they could relate to me in that respect. And I was good at hiding the anxiety and shame. But when you’re sleeping all day, and at the casino all night, and people see you there and hear things, they start to wonder. But no-one knows how bad it is until you tell them. I have amazing friends and I wish I’d gone to them earlier.
I was good at hiding the anxiety and shame.
It’s the same with my mum. I live at home with Mum and we have a great relationship, but it was tested at that time. If anything, Mum was too supportive, she didn’t crack down hard enough. She tried, but it was very difficult, and she didn’t have my dad. She’s always been a soft, free spirit, like me. When I ran out of money, I started stealing from her.
The breaking point came when Mum said, ‘If you do this again, I’ll call the police’.
When you gamble, you’re all about instant gratification, self-gratification. Until you realise the effect it’s having on others, and it makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re not going to do anything about it. Mum dragged me into a psychiatrist’s office and that changed everything.
I see 2016 as my ‘reforming’ year. I started a business degree, went to the gym and lost a lot of weight. I still gambled, but much less. The following year, I got my first job, working in before and after school care. It’s inspired me to change to an education degree. I’m studying primary and secondary inclusive education, so I can work as a special-needs teacher. I love special kids. A lot of people might see them as naughty, but at the schools I go to, I’m like, ‘Give them to me’. I have empathy for them and can look past the condition and see them for who they really are: interesting and amazing people.
That gambling can be advertised so easily is a major problem for me.
I’m big on my sport. I grew up on AFL and am now playing and coaching soccer, which I take very seriously. The sports betting ads we see everywhere really highlight for me how underrated gambling addiction is as a social issue, compared with other addictions. The ads are so positive, with bright colours, jokes and banter; that’s just not the reality. That gambling can be advertised so easily is a major problem for me. But it’s really encouraging to see so many sporting clubs end their dependence on gambling revenue, by forgoing sponsorship from betting companies, as well as removing pokies from their venues.
I love what I do
I found out about the Foundation’s Lived Experience Advisory Committee through a Facebook ad. I applied because I feel young people need role models to show them there’s a different way, and that it’s not going to be like this forever. You need to break the bubble, and the first thing is to be open with yourself, and then other people. For me, self-awareness is everything.
The first thing is to be open with yourself, and then other people.
I’m 23, and as of 3 January 2020, I haven’t gambled for three years. I’m very busy, sometimes too busy, but it’s good. I love what I do, and I still have a strong desire to win and achieve. Just in healthier forms in life.
Fred Rubinstein is a member of the Lived Experience Advisory Committee, which provides perspectives from personal experience of gambling harm to inform the work of the Foundation.