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Richard's story

A young male wearing a black hoodie and a black hat.

Winning back trust and confidence

I’d pick my mum up from work at midnight and Auckland’s Sky Tower casino was on the way home. The pokies were just relaxing for my mum, a hobby. I’d go in for the free food and drink and watch her and, slowly but surely, the bright lights and soft music became exciting to me. I was curious. I started on the wheel and one night I won $500 from $20.

From there I went back to that wheel at Sky Tower on my own, but I also went to my local pokies. I distinctly remember that it was a secret. It was my own thing, but I knew deep down inside that it wasn’t right.

Lying to work and family

I was working full time and had savings that I started to tap into. In the beginning it was $50 a night, then $100, then it was my whole pay. I put up a façade at home, but my family knew something was going on. I’d lie off the top of my tongue: a hiccup at work; a problem with payroll.

There were times I went into the casino and called in sick. Bosses gave me the time off I asked for and listened to any excuse I could think of. They asked if anything had changed at home. Eventually I was let go.

That winning feeling started to diminish.

I thought having children could be a circuit breaker.

I met Merapi, who’s now my wife, and started to slow down a little. I was trying to impress her and took her to the casino on a ‘fun’ date. I thought she was just a starter while I was deep into gambling but, lo and behold, she had her own gambling demons. We’d go to the pokies on our date nights. ‘Which machine do you like? Wow, you like the things I like!’

We got married and had our first child. I thought having children could be a circuit breaker and it worked for the first year. We got back on track and put money in the bank.

Putting myself first

But then I put myself first and started playing pokies on the way home from work. Merapi caught on and she wanted to jump on as well. Our relationship revolved around gambling. We were the best of friends when we were winning, but not nice to be around if we were losing.

With credit cards and loans to carry, we missed rent, got evicted and had to move back home. If it weren’t for my parents, we’d be stuck, but we were losing the trust and confidence of family. ‘Where does all your money go?’

With me being the main breadwinner, I felt like a failure.

We’d rock up to a barbecue with no meat and no presents. That led to us isolating ourselves. With me being the main breadwinner, I felt like a failure.

We moved to Melbourne to get away from all that stigma. It was a fresh start. This was going to be the game changer, we thought, but the same habits transferred from small New Zealand pokies venues to the huge venues here. I was making three times more and the jackpots were 10 times bigger.

I was finally going to get that big win; it was waiting for me.

But over 11 years we were evicted from eight houses, which meant uprooting our five kids. Our cars were repossessed. We got every loan you can think of.

Hitting rock bottom

Finally our rock bottom came. The circuit breaker. The off button. We were gambling with money from a club Merapi was the treasurer of. I was the instigator. We were trying to put money back in, but we couldn’t keep up.

I’ll never forget the day Merapi pulled up in the car bawling her eyes out. ‘They know,’ she said. Charges were laid and a three-year process started. The reality of the ramifications hit me and flicked a switch in my brain. My wife was going to be imprisoned for my actions.

We banned ourselves from the casino and local venues. Someone who’s still a friend said, ‘Richard, this doesn’t define you’. He saw me for me.

It was all life changing.

… what we’re telling isn’t a story of tragedy but of triumph.

Now we’re speakers for ReSPIN and I feel like a leader to be trusted with such a platform. It’s a whole different language we’re speaking and a different posture. We talk to health services, clubs and men’s groups. I tell people that there is a way out, step by step. It’s a journey.

It’s an honour and what we’re telling isn’t a story of tragedy but of triumph.

Now we’re back to being parents, guiding and supporting our kids, and with a new grandchild. We’re role models in our family. I’m the one hosting the barbecues now and I say, ‘Don’t bring anything’.