I have been waiting for this day; waiting for almost five years for the federal government’s national gambling self-exclusion register, BetStop, to be open for business.
In November 2018 I met with former communications minister Paul Fletcher and he used my story to announce the creation of the register. At that point, I had been made redundant and had gambled my $190,000 redundancy package. I had been earning $130,000 in a professional role with a blue chip company for 20 years. I was suddenly unemployed and fragile. My payment went, I lost the family home, my marriage ended and I entered into personal insolvency.
At that time I knew I had a gambling problem. My marriage ended because of online gambling. I sought financial counselling and self-excluded myself from every betting company I could think of, including companies that used the NT regulator’s self-exclusion register. I self-excluded myself from 75 companies and thought I’d be safe.
But new companies started up in NSW where the government had no self-exclusion register.
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In 2019, with my mental health deteriorating, I received a total and permanent disability insurance payment and this triggered my superannuation being released.
I was never able to accept the gambling losses, and went online, mostly late at night, to try to recover losses, thinking my luck would change. Yes, I know that is delusional but that is how the brain of someone addicted to gambling thinks. I was scared at the ease in which I was able to open yet another account.
Within months, my entire superannuation and insurance TPD payment – $436,000 – was gambled away.
In one 48-hour betting frenzy with one gambling company, I was able to deposit and lose $117,000 with single bets of up to $12,000, at 2am in the morning, on horse races on the other side of the world. (It was licensed in NSW at that point).
Then I lost almost $8,000 in a single night with another company. I had emailed them to self exclude, but they still reopened my account.
When I questioned the company on how I was able to re-open the self-excluded account, the response was that while they had received the request for self-exclusion by email, I hadn’t printed off and completed the correct form.
All the funds that should have been available to me to support myself and my family are gone. As a father, I am heartbroken at not being able to help my daughter who is struggling with rising interest rates and and the cost of raising my beautiful grandchildren.
Until today, I have been passionately campaigning for the urgent implementation of a national self-exclusion register, only to be told repeatedly, “we are nearly there”.
If BetStop had been operational when I first raised my hand and asked for help, I would not be living in insecure accomodation, wondering where I am going to be in ten years’ time and whether I’ll have a roof over my head.
But that is in the past. Now, I just want to make sure there is robust protection in place to stop what happened to me from happening to others. It’s time to give vulnerable punters a chance at life, a true “exit plan” from further gambling harm.
I want to tell other people who are on the path to gambling addiction, to just do it. Put your name on BetStop and take control of your life. Don’t wait for gambling to ruin your life. Just do it.
I want to tell government ministers to ignore the “nanny state” claims the gambling lobbyists run with. Put in place a suite of measures that will work for people like me. Stop advertising, stop inducements, put hard limits on how much people like me can lose. Protect us from our addicted selves.
The author is recovering from a gambling addiction and lives in Melbourne
George Barham, an accomplished journalist and avid gambling enthusiast, serves as the esteemed Editor-in-Chief at fly-to-australia.com, Australia’s leading source for comprehensive gambling news and insights. With an unwavering passion for both the written word and the ever-evolving world of betting and gaming, George brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the helm of our editorial team.