Jane's story - My ex-husband never acknowledged that he had a gambling problem.

Jane, the wife of a gambler, tells her story of how gambling affected her and her son

So… I am feeling quite uncomfortable about speaking about this. That's because more than 40 years after I found out about my ex-husband's gambling problem I still feel guilty

Major long term effects:

Financial difficulties are the obvious effect of a gambling problem but other issues can get tangled up with them:

    Why didn't I realise?
    How could I have exposed my child to what transpired?
    Was it all my fault?

All these years later that guilt still lurks beneath the surface just waiting to be scratched back to life. But, possibly, the most destructive effect on me long-term was that I lost the capacity to trust.

How did I find out my ex was a gambling addict?

We had a plan, and a budget. In large part that plan hinged on me working 8 hours overtime a week, from the time we were married.

The overtime money I earned, around one quarter of my salary, was quarantined specifically for a deposit on a home.

The second part of the plan was that once we'd saved enough for the deposit we would try for our first child, and that I would leave work pretty early in the pregnancy to house hunt so that we could move in before the baby was born. (There was no maternity leave then and no creches; no pre-schools.)

The evening our doctor rang to tell me I was pregnant life changed. My ex-husband manhandled me, he dragged me into the living room by the front of my shirt, threw me onto the settee, and stood over me lecturing me, very loudly, about what he expected of me and what he would not put up with just because I was pregnant.

I was shocked, distressed and confused. I'd woken up that day married to a person I truly loved and before dinner the same day I was married to a totally different person. And – I was pregnant.

But Life goes on

A week or so later we agreed, as planned, that I would resign from work when I was around 3 months pregnant. And then, as well as looking for a home to buy, I would take over the banking.

I need to add here that these were the days before EFT – we were paid in cash. My lunch break was 40 minutes. I worked in a location where I couldn't get to a bank and back in that time, so my ex-husband took care of the banking.

It wasn't until the day after I resigned and he handed over the bank book that I discovered that there was, in fact $25.00 in the bank – not enough for the house deposit. I reckon that explained my ex-husband's reaction when we found out I was pregnant – he realised that I was about to discover the truth.

What sort of man was he?

In spite of the picture his gambling gives, my ex-husband was highly intelligent. He was also very charismatic with a great sense of humour, lots of energy, very interesting and - prior to my pregnancy - gentle, warm and considerate.

I just never, ever would have thought the situation I was in was remotely possible.

Effect one: I'd become pregnant and I'd resigned my job and we had no money.

Effect two: I needed to work out how to keep the marriage together and a big part of that meant I would need to get him to stop gambling.


There was no apology. The abuse continued. There were constant rows about money for gambling – including him wrestling me physically and shaking me to try and force me to hand over the money he knew I'd started to put aside each fortnight for regular bills like rent and electricity and hidden somewhere. (I kept changing the hiding place to make sure he would not find it.)

The question for me now was; how could I get him to stop gambling?

I came up with what I though was a fail-safe strategy: My final termination payment came through about 3 months after I'd resigned my job. I got him to open a separate bank account with $500.00 of that money on the condition that; a) He would keep a book recording all his bets; and b) Agree that if his losses reached $500.00 he would stop gambling.

Although $500.00 was a lot of money in 1972 I'd thought it through. I knew that he would never agree if the amount was any less than $500.00 and my priority was to hold the marriage together and provide security for my child.

I could never have anticipated his rationale when the $500.00 was gone. Of course he wanted more money but it was his rationale of how you work out whether you've lost or not that was totally crazy.

When I pointed out that he'd promised to stop gambling if he lost he said – quote: 'You fucking idiot! I didn't lose! Don't you know anything?! That's not how you work it out. It's not the money that tells you whether you've won or lost, it's how the bets compare. Look, at the individual bets. See how much each of the bets I won with paid out. Now look at each of the losing bets; I never lost more on any single bet than any of the winning bets paid out, so I didn't lose at all.'

I couldn't believe that the fact that there were a lot more losing bets than winning bets, and that the combined bets had lost a large sum of money simply didn't register with him.

Things continued to deteriorate.

My superannuation payout arrived and I banked it the day before I gave birth. That was a couple of thousand dollars. By the time I arrived back home that had all gone too. I was in hospital for 10 days; but $2,000 in 10 Days?

Long story short:

We moved to Canberra because he got a brilliant job there with a good future.

That gave me access to a decent pre-school -– if I could get a job. To leave I had to be able to support myself and my son, otherwise we would still be hostage to his gambling.

Finally I managed to get a decent paying job. Two incomes now—still not enough.

Without my knowledge he took out an overdraft on our joint bank account.

As the situation worsened he had become more and more controlling and abusive.

His behaviour became erratic, including treating his child badly in unpredictable ways at unpredictable times - totally confusing for a small child.

Every problem was my fault and I started to believe that they must be my fault – otherwise why had he changed so drastically? What was it about me that made this once lovely man behave like this?

But, having got a decent job I was finally in a position where I could support my son and myself. I could leave.

But, by then, the on-going abuse and public humiliations had left me without any sense of self-esteem and I was scared that I wouldn't manage on my own!!

I got lucky - I had help from a counsellor who cleverly uncovered the total situation. And I was driven by my concerns for my son and his future...

Life after leaving:

Once I made the break, suddenly – and it really was all of a sudden - I had masses of friends. Friends who embraced my son as well as me.

Life became fun again.

I cleared the debts – my divorce settlement was $2,600 worth of debts – a lot of money in 1977. I had to clear them: as a sole parent I needed a good credit rating. There was no chance my ex would have cleared them.

I was also fortunate in being able to build, over time, a satisfying career.

But I continued to feel guilty about what I'd done to my son by giving him a gambling, abusive father. I was hard on myself. I was prone to stress.

Only two years ago my son told me how when his father picked him up for a weekend he would drive straight to the TAB and leave him sitting in the car while he placed bets and listened to the race on the radio.

That son is, after years of study, in a job that is totally right for him and he has an excellent reputation. He and his wife, who is wonderful, have a strong, sound marriage. They are financially secure. They respect each other and share domestic and parental responsibilities very equally. Not so long ago my daughter-in-law said to me 'one thing I really appreciate is that he never takes me for granted'. For me that is a total joy!

My son has never gambled or been tempted to gamble.

As for me… It took some time but I now own my own home. I know that although I've made mistakes along the way I am not an idiot. And - I'm free.

Why did share my story?

Because I am angry – unspeakably angry!

I am angry about the way gambling is pushed and promoted: through advertising,through sponsorship, through government planning decisions. I'm angry about the way State Governments are more interested in the revenue they get through gambling than they are about its human consequences!

Gambling operators are in it for a profit and they use mathematical formulae to ensure that the money paid out is less than the amount of money they make out of the punters - overall punters will never win because of the amount held back by the operators. For example, today Aristocrat, a major poker machine operator that has moved into on-line gaming, announced a 6 month profit to March 31 this year of $159 million and that they expect an annual profit of around $366 million for this financial year. That's $136 million more than last financial year!!

Last Thursday I received a text message - instead of a number or a name on the screen it displayed a single word: POKIES

When I opened the message it read: Grab your chance - 200 free spins! No deposit needed – valid for the next 12 hours. It had a link to a website. And, how the hell did they get my mobile number!?

Imagine the effect a message like that would have on someone with a gambling problem.

Imagine its effect on someone who recognised they had a problem and was struggling to beat it!


Jane's name has been changed to protect her identity. Jane shared her story in a speech before an audience of nearly 200 people. The counsellors of Central Coast Gambling Help would like to sincerely thank Jane for her courage and openness in sharing her painful story.

Photo Credit: Galo Naranjo Licence: Flickr Creative Commons