William Hill Danyelle Rolla

The diary of a gam­bling addict

Crippling debt and constant hounding from loan sharks led to this former gambling addict living a double life.

To the out­side world, Mike, 32, was a hap­pi­ly mar­ried dad work­ing in finance. Pri­vate­ly, he was bat­tling an addic­tion to gam­bling, which led to over £110,000 worth of debt – cost­ing him his degree, mar­riage and almost his life. Now in recov­ery, and work­ing with Young Gamers and Gam­blers Edu­ca­tion Trust (YGAM), here he describes a day in the throes of his addiction.

12.01: It’s pay­day and my wages have land­ed. Emma is asleep upstairs but I get my phone out and start gam­bling on online casi­no games.

02.15: Still play­ing. I’m on roulette. When that wheel starts spin­ning – whether I’ve bet £1 or £1000 – I get this pow­er­ful rush; a high that comes just before the ball lands. Whether I win or lose right now is almost irrel­e­vant. I know I’m addict­ed to that chance, the risk. My bal­ance says £5000, but because I’m doing it online, it doesn’t feel real. I know I’m nev­er going to get that mon­ey, I’m just chas­ing my loss­es – and I need at least £30,000 to man­age my debts right now. 

03.46: I’ve lost all my win­nings – and blown my entire month­ly salary. I have noth­ing in my account for the next four weeks but I have rent and bills to pay, plus pay­day loan com­pa­nies and loan sharks chas­ing me. The debt is crip­pling me. It’s fine, I’ll sort it tomorrow. 

05.08: Can’t sleep. Anx­i­ety is rac­ing through me. Grow­ing up, my fam­i­ly only ever gam­bled on the Grand Nation­al, but I remem­ber lying to my par­ents about what I had for lunch at school when, real­ly, I’d lost it on a bet with friends. At 16, I was bet­ting reg­u­lar­ly, but it ramped up at uni when my stu­dent loan dropped. That, along with the inde­pen­dence of liv­ing away from home – and a job work­ing in a book­ies – fuelled the fire. I didn’t think I had a prob­lem, or that it was some­thing you could even get addict­ed to. Then I won £980, and I remem­ber think­ing how easy it was. I start­ed bet­ting on any sport I could and buy­ing scratch cards. When I saw a mate on an FOBT (fixed odds bet­ting ter­mi­nal) and he turned £10 into £100 in 60 sec­onds, my enthu­si­asm rock­et­ed. With­in months I was on the machines (play­ing roulette, black­jack and slots) for nine hours straight when I wasn’t work­ing. Once I found the games online, that became my crack cocaine. Ten years lat­er, it still is.

07.30: I’ve had a cou­ple hours of bro­ken sleep and the real­i­ty of what hap­pened last night slams me the sec­ond my eyes open. I lie to Emma that I’m late for a work meet­ing – she’s already sus­pi­cious – and rush out the door with­out hav­ing breakfast.

08.50: Arrive at the office, but I couldn’t care less about work. Today is about keep­ing my head above water. I’m lucky I get to work flex­i­bly and inde­pen­dent­ly for my finance job but I’m abus­ing that posi­tion a lot these days. I just need to get any mon­ey I can this morn­ing so that I can increase it at the book­ies – gam­bling is the only way to fix this. 

10.18: Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty lev­el is zero. I’m con­stant­ly dis­tract­ed and can’t stop check­ing my phone. Every time an email or mes­sage vibrates, I’m con­vinced it’s some­one chas­ing me for money. 

11.55: I’ve spent the last 90 min­utes fir­ing 20 online appli­ca­tions off to loan com­pa­nies. I’ve rinsed the nor­mal means of bor­row­ing – my cred­it rat­ing is fucked – so I’m try­ing to bor­row from peo­ple I shouldn’t. I know they have huge inter­est rates, but I just need my hands on that mon­ey – I’ll wor­ry about the repay­ments lat­er. Or, I’ll win at least some­thing this month to keep me going.

12.30: A col­league asks why my hands are shak­ing. I tell him my broth­er is ill, and I’m real­ly wor­ried about him. He is, but I play that in my favour know­ing it will give me breath­ing space. I know that sounds hor­ri­ble, but that’s the kind of stuff I do now: I’m an expert in deceit and manip­u­la­tion. Pre­vi­ous­ly, I’ve asked close fam­i­ly mem­bers and mates to bail me out because I’d got into a bit of debt”, and I’ve giv­en them account details for a loan shark when, actu­al­ly, it’s one that I’ve set up. I’ve told them I need £500 to make the repay­ment when, actu­al­ly, I just need £200. It means I can use the oth­er £300 to gam­ble. I put my gam­bling before every­thing and every­one else; includ­ing Emma when I steal from her purse, and my 18-month-old son, Rory, when I steal from his pig­gy bank. My mum has hand­ed me cash, made me promise not to gam­ble it – and I’ve sworn on anyone’s life that I won’t, know­ing full well I will.

13.05: Everyone’s off for lunch. I’m still not hun­gry. I have a cou­ple of quid in change, and I’m going to head to a book­ies. I know I can turn it into £1000. The most I’ve ever won is £3500, but I lost it – and yet I’ve still placed a 15p bet the next day and told myself I can win it back. Before I leave the office, I turn my phone off so Emma can’t track my loca­tion. I get why she does: I’ve lied to her loads about my where­abouts, or been caught out when I’ve gone to a pawn shop or the book­ies. I feel like I’m liv­ing a dou­ble life. Con­stant­ly remem­ber­ing what I’ve told peo­ple and keep­ing up with the lies is exhausting. 

13.36: I didn’t win. By the time I walk back into the office, my heart is rac­ing, I’m sweat­ing and there’s a crush­ing feel­ing of dread in the pit of my stomach. 

14.45: Pac­ing up and down in the men’s. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve escaped to the toi­let today. I look in the mir­ror; I look awful. But this is prob­a­bly eas­i­er to hide than drug or alco­hol abuse. The signs are behav­ioral, not phys­i­cal. My men­tal health is suf­fer­ing huge­ly but I won’t tell any­one else – it’s too embar­rass­ing, and I know peo­ple won’t under­stand. And I won’t go to the doc­tors, I know I’ve got a gam­bling prob­lem – it’s tak­en so much to admit that to myself and those clos­est to me – but I’m not pre­pared to admit out loud I have men­tal health issues or take med­ica­tion. That’s not the per­son I am – and I know I’ll be fine. I’m not afraid. I know I’ll find a way to sort this. I’ll play the peo­ple I need to in order to work this sit­u­a­tion to my advan­tage.

15.37: My work­ing day has gone out the win­dow. My focus is still on try­ing to get hold of some mon­ey. But bor­row­ing is even more dif­fi­cult for me these days. I can’t get loan com­pa­nies or sharks to send me mon­ey via bank trans­fer as Emma has my dri­ving license, birth cer­tifi­cate and pass­port to stop me open­ing more bank accounts. I can’t risk her find­ing out I’ve had a relapse, I know she will – it’s a tick­ing time bomb. I remem­ber there’s a ring at home – I’ll pawn it tomorrow.

17.30: Fin­ish work and Emma WhatsApp’ed me. I haven’t replied to her last three mes­sages. I tell her everything’s OK. It’s not OK – and we’re not OK. Last month I told her I’d kill myself if she left me. I won’t but I know that will make her stay with me. She says my addic­tion is a tox­ic dis­ease and some­thing I can’t con­trol. She always says to talk to her if I gam­ble, and that she’ll help me but I nev­er do. And each time I get myself out of a shit sit­u­a­tion, it gives me the con­fi­dence to keep going. I’ve had every rea­son to want to stop. I’m expe­ri­enc­ing the harm of gam­bling: I left uni with­out a degree because of it, I couldn’t get a mort­gage because of it, and now my mar­riage is bare­ly sur­viv­ing because of it – but I’ve just not had the gen­uine desire to stop. Plus, noth­ing can stop me. I’ve closed bank accounts, I’ve tried get­ting exclu­sion from book­ies, I’ve down­loaded soft­ware to stop me going on online gam­bling sites. Mum has paid for me to go to hyp­nother­a­py, but once I walked into recep­tion and watched her dri­ve off, I left and spent the mon­ey for the ses­sion on gam­bling. Peo­ple might say the risk of loos­ing my mar­riage, or my son, should be enough to stop me but in real­i­ty – it isn’t.

18.10: Head to my sec­ond job in a pub. I’ve start­ed work­ing a few nights a week to help get more mon­ey. I also deliv­er gro­ceries. I realise I need food so my mate in the kitchen cooks me din­ner. As I eat, I check my phone – someone’s com­ment­ed on a Face­book pho­to of me, Emma and Rory in the park last week. We look like a per­fect fam­i­ly but behind the scenes it’s chaos. If ever I take Rory some­where at the week­end, it’s always sched­uled around the sport I’ve put bets on. 

20.43: I’m so tired and the pub is busy. Can’t stop think­ing and wor­ry­ing that I haven’t been able to access any mon­ey today. I remem­ber to change the pass­code on my phone again so Emma can’t check any­thing when I’m asleep later. 

23.19: Arrive home. Emma is up and we have a glass of wine. It still sur­pris­es me that I can take or leave alco­hol. When I was younger and I got involved with the wrong kind peo­ple through gam­bling, I dab­bled with drugs, but I’ve nev­er shown signs of addic­tion to any­thing else. Emma seems fine but is ask­ing a lot of ques­tions about my day. The con­ver­sa­tion is calm and I want to hold on to this feel­ing for as long as pos­si­ble as I know with­in a few days a stand­ing order will bounce and it will all kick off.

00.15: In bed. I feel beyond exhaust­ed and huge­ly alone in my wor­ry. A lot of peo­ple would say the oppo­site of addic­tion is sobri­ety. I’d say the oppo­site to addic­tion is con­nec­tion. It’s a very lone­ly place. When­ev­er I’ve tried to explain it to those clos­est to me, they can’t get their head around it. They look at it though a log­i­cal lens, and say: What the hell would pos­sess you to take cop­pers from your kid’s pig­gy bank to gam­ble with? That’s evil! Why don’t you stop and think?” But in my expe­ri­ence of addic­tion, that log­ic doesn’t apply. It’s too pow­er­ful and destruc­tive – it defies all log­ic. That’s not my thought process when I make these deci­sions; I don’t think like oth­er peo­ple in those sit­u­a­tions. But tomor­row I’ll pawn that ring and dou­ble the cash: Sat­ur­day is the best day for sports bet­ting. I’ll sort it.

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