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*Peter's story

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A father’s debts never settled

I began gambling very early, I’d say eight or nine years old. My parents had a retail shop and I went in with Dad on a Saturday morning. He was a heavy gambler and I watched him pore over the form guide.

We went to the races on some of those Saturdays and he’d tell my mum we’d been to the football. This was the 1960s, when there was no betting on footy. That was definitely not where we were.

By 11 or 12 I knew all about the jockeys and trainers at the Spring Racing Carnival and everyone would come to me. I ran books at school. After the racing carnival was over, I was a nobody.

Dad passed away when I was 17 and a few weeks earlier he’d borrowed $200 from me which went into what was then his phone account. He never paid me back; it was a debt that was never settled and left me with a legacy of gambling.

Studying the form guide

I think I took over his phone account at 18. By my 20s I had three or four forms of income, from being a salesman to working in a bar, where most of the conversations were about racing and football. I was just carrying on what my dad taught me.

It was a thrill to go to the tracks, but I’d never assess the horses in the mounting yard. I’d be lined up at the tote studying the form guide.

I was spending way above my means …

I remember being at Caulfield and betting on the last race. There was a photo finish and it wasn’t decided before I headed back to my rental, knowing that if my horse hadn’t won I wouldn’t be able to pay the rent.

I even recall the odds for my winning or losing. I reckon I’d leave the track seven out of 10 times with no money.

I was spending way above my means and would go to bed with my heart racing, but multiple jobs always kept enough money coming in. Friends would have known I was gambling and a gambler can identify another gambler very well. You listen to an implausible story about where their money has gone and know that that’s not right, that’s not real.

Where did the money go?

When gambling came in on the footy, I couldn’t watch matches because I’d have so much riding on a point or a goal. I’d go to a dinner party and if the footy was on in the background, I couldn’t carry on a conversation.

I took my own footy team out of the equation because you go with your head, not your heart.

When gambling came in on the footy, I couldn’t watch matches …

My first wife and I met as teenagers and she knew I gambled but not how much. When we got married, I kept a separate account for betting and she’d be suspicious about where all our money went. I’d blame Payroll. I just wanted to bet more and more and was good at lying. I found a Payroll letterhead and produced letters that explained away ‘their’ mistakes.

My wife caught me out once, then twice. By then we had three little boys and I saw that it was in my best interests to stop gambling, but I couldn’t. If there was money, I wanted to gamble. It was my depravity.

When she caught me out a third time, the marriage was over. It still gets me very emotional. She didn’t deserve to be treated that way. But the divorce made it easier to gamble; I didn’t have to hide anymore.

The power of telling my story

I’ve seen four or five different counsellors – ‘No, no, I’m not gambling anymore’ – sometimes I’d go to the TAB straight after.

I’ve had so many loans with so many banks. There was never a time in 40 years when I didn’t have access to money until I woke up and realised that I just couldn’t access money anymore. I declared bankruptcy and put together a payment scheme. There was no way I was going to be able to re-partner with all those debts.

I still have energy to experience and enjoy.

My current wife knows about my history and encourages me to tell my story and volunteer with Peer Connection and Three Sides of the Coin. For all my years of working, I don’t have much to show for it but we’ve been on trips. I still have energy to experience and enjoy.

My sons know nothing about any of this. They’re in their 20s and 30s and they’re good, regular men who never got into gambling. I even frown on having a conversation about gambling with them.

There’s definitely a lot I missed out on. Everything I do now is for them.

*Peter is a pseudonym.