The year that changed everything

 

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Written by Pete Latham

June 10, 2019

The Year That Changed Everything

So throughout my early gambling experiences, (see Gambling Addiction & Me) I was often with my best mate at the time who was also into putting large amounts of money into slot machines. I should probably change his name for this story so let’s call him Dan. Oh wait…I do actually know someone called Dan and it wasn’t him. Ah, I know! We’ll call him Derek. Am I the type of person to have a best friend called Derek? Anyway, (and weirdly,) Derek also looked remarkably like the Honey Monster back in the day and I’ve often wondered if our friendship was some psychological Karma.

It was 2004 and Derek had pretty much gotten over his slot playing having bought a house pre-boom and I doubt at that time that he actually knew the extent of my problem. I had been stuck in a rut of a dead end job for years and even though Derek wasn’t exactly high flying in terms of a career, he had succeeded where I had failed. He’d settled down, bought a house, married and had a child. However, I still visited him regularly at his house and we would quite happily sit there getting drunk, eating takeaway and watching trash TV. This generally took place on a Friday evening and it was on one of those Friday evenings that we saw a late night advert for an online casino.

The Advertising Hook

Strangely, It had never occurred to me to play online before so when Derek suggested we have a go, I was definitely up for it.

Derek opened an account and we both put £50 each in and played a slot. In the 10 minutes that it took to lose that £100 I got a bit of a buzz from it but nothing much more than that. However, the day after when I was back at home I made the worse decision ever in the history of my decisions and opened my own account depositing another £50.

I’m not quite sure how long it took but in that one session on the Saturday morning I was up by around £200…Then £500…Then £1,500 before peaking at around £7,000. This was absolutely amazing! I cashed out and within a few days had the money in my bank account. Now due to my previous gambling I was already carrying a fair amount of credit card debt. However, the £7,000 win was enough to cover that and in probably one of the only sensible moves I ever made, I used the money to pay it off. Freedom! I was debt free for the first time in several years and it felt great.

The following Saturday, I played again and once again I won £7,000. This lucky streak was enough to convince my gambling brain that a Saturday was the lucky day to play. I reasoned that most people would probably play and lose on a Friday night so by the time Saturday morning came along the slots were full and ready to pay. God knows what I was thinking! I’ve literally just remembered that part and laughed out loud as I typed. However, the following Saturday I carried on and lost the entire balance. I was gutted.

In the days that followed I was itching to go back for more and spent the entire week at work, willing Saturday to come around again. This would be comeback time and not only would I have cleared my debt, I would have thousands back in the bank to do what I wanted to. This notion was confirmed that following Saturday with another whopping win of £8,000 and it’s at this point that I started to consider a deposit for a house.

The Insane Plan

So the state of play at that point was that I had cleared my debt and had £8,000 in the bank. Great! Now all I needed was money for a car. Derek always had nice cars and I think I was driving a clapped out Citreon at the time. I really liked the Audi TT back then and I think I could have secured one at that time for £18,000. I already had a new career which had set me up for life and now I wanted to look the part. So I needed roughly £10k for a house deposit and a further £18k for a car. I already had £8k in the bank so this was only going to take a few weeks. Just a few Saturdays like the ones I had been having.

Saturday. Saturday. SATURDAY!  I couldn’t wait for Saturday! That week at work was hell waiting for it to come around. I had a mission to go on and I wanted it now! I wanted it bad enough on Thursday and by the time my early finish on Friday came along I was driving back from work on the motorway barely able to contain myself with excitement. Why wait until Saturday? I could play now! Hell I could play anytime and still win money!

I played that Friday afternoon and in the course of a few hours had drained the £8,000 from my bank account. Not only was I gutted about that but I was also gutted that I didn’t have the patience to wait for Saturday. I had become one of the Friday losers as opposed to the Saturday winners. S***!

Denial

Not to worry as this was a minor set-back. On Saturday morning, I started to use my credit card. It had a fresh zero balance and I had £7k to play with. I played..And lost.  I was back to square one and sick with…Just sick. I therefore decided to take advantage of a time out and temporarily closed my account.

Now I’m guessing at this point that you might know where this story is going. The working week that followed provided me with a range of emotions from despair at my stupidity to hope. I circled round this loop many times before settling on hope. By the time Friday came along, I had managed to increase my credit card limit by around £3,000 and if the original casino was a no-go due to self-exclusion then there would be others. And there was. Plenty in fact. So when Saturday came along (I was sticking to the original formula) I had opened up a new account at a new casino with £3,000 to spend. I felt good. I felt even better when I’d won my entire credit card balance back again and managed to cash out.

blank

From this point, my memory gets a little hazy but the win and loss cycle continued for a few more weeks and I never once managed to accumulate enough money to check all the boxes:

Debt Free 

House Deposit 

Audi TT 

Sure I amassed and recycled several thousand pounds but never enough to get what I wanted. However, I know that at some point in that run I realised that it was more than winning or losing. It was escape. So to cut a long story short, the cycle continued over the entire summer until it stopped abruptly. It stopped because I was broke and I mean really broke.

The Crashblank

Over that period I had secured 2 further credit cards, and a consolidation loan. Needless to say that when I consolidated my credit cards into the loan, I did not close the credit card accounts. Therefore I had the balance of all three cards in one ‘easy to manage loan’ plus the now re-maxed-out cards to double my debt. I spent a good few days plucking up the courage to work out what I owed and was terrified as I knew it was a lot. I finally bit the bullet and calculated it.

I owed £38,796.42

The only saving grace from that was that no other credit card or loan company would lend me money and my gambling had been stopped dead in its tracks. My credit score must have plummeted and at that point I had no choice. I had to ask for help and it was at this point that I told my mum. I couldn’t possibly keep up the payments on what I owed and had to seek professional help. I was terrified and this was mainly because I might have to disclose how the mess had happened. I was truly ashamed. However, how it happened never really mattered to my creditors and all the companies wanted to know was when they were going to get their money back. It turned out that they weren’t. More shame.

Reality Scare

After seeking professional advice from Step Change (a UK debt charity)  I ended up on a debt management plan before taking out an IVA (individual Voluntary Agreement.) I was able to make regular payments at more of an affordable rate. I’ll discuss IVA’s elsewhere but basically this was the answer to my problem at the time.

But the biggest benefit of that preceding disaster was that the whole experience had scared me off gambling for good. I would never, EVER gamble again and even bought blocking software for my computer making it impossible for me to carry on the destructive cycle.

More Denial

That was until the software licence expired however in November 2006.  Coincidentally, this was also the time that my self-exclusion expired from the very first online casino I had played at. I was very helpfully reminded of this by a warm and friendly email from the company concerned.

Memories of the severity of my situation had faded in those 2 years and I thought I had it beat. There was no way I was going to repeat my mistakes because I couldn’t get credit anywhere. The IVA had seen to that. Would it really hurt to have another go?

Strangely the answer for me at that time was no. Well sort of. My IVA was in its second year of 5 and I was still paying out a considerable amount of my income to cover the payments. Nevertheless I was getting by and on 26th November 2006 I had £30 left in my bank account. It was pay day the day after and I knew I wasn’t going to spend it. It was only £30 after all.

I deposited that money into the casino and I won £350.  I was really pleased with that! In fact my reaction was similar to that of a regular guy who had just won a nice little sum of money. It wasn’t the reaction of a serious gambler who wouldn’t be satisfied having previously won so much more. I therefore decided to cash out and would be able to boost my wage and maybe even enjoy a couple of good nights out on it.  That mindset must have lasted an impressive 90 minutes before I reversed the withdrawal.

Within minutes of doing that, I was playing one of my favourite slots on a £9 a spin stake when I hit the jackpot. £10,000! I didn’t even see it drop in at first but wow! £10k in one spin! It shocked the hell out of me and was enough to make me stop instantly, go smoke a cigarette at the front door and literally pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream.

I’ve often heard about people doing that and always thought they were weird if they couldn’t distinguish reality. I did it anyway and my reality was confirmed with the pinch and also the cigarette burn on my arm which I forgot I was holding.

 I cashed out.

Then my gamblers brain kicked in again. Clearly I hadn’t been sucked back in to my previous depths because I managed to cash out. I called the IVA supervisor to request that I could pay £10,000 in a full and final settlement and it turned out that I could. I did just that, and once again I was debt free. Yes the IVA had trashed my credit rating but that was probably a good thing. I was debt free and the lesson had been learned!

Not.

The Cycle Continued

As the years went by, I still continued to gamble never once really learning from the events of 2004. I couldn’t possibly get back into debt through gambling since I had no lines of credit so why quit something I enjoyed? Thanks, gambling brain! The truth was that I could never have quit because I still didn’t know the reason why I was doing it and there sure as hell was a reason!

So to sum up the story so far…

2006- Won big. Became debt free

2012- Credit file recovers and obtain credit

2013- Start using credit again to gamble

2013- Onward- Debt grows. Debt gets paid with wins. Debt grows again. Debt gets paid with wins. Debt grows again.

2018- Give up trying to gamble myself free from debt and I quit gambling properly.

2019- Still picking up the pieces of debt but living again since I finally found out the cause of my gambling cycle. I have zero desire to gamble again and have developed a healthy hatred for it.

So what makes quitting this time any different from the others? It’s simple. I now know what caused me to gamble in the first place and I’ve now eliminated it. I will share that with you very soon but I need to figure how to explain. For now though I’d like to help you find your cause and join me so we can all leave this ridiculous cycle behind!

Okay, so you’re all caught up…Almost.

Read more on The Uk’s Problem With Gambling Addiction, and Why You Can Never Win. Have you got a similar story? Why not share it in the community!

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