ADDICTION: Gambling can ruin lives.
ADDICTION: Gambling can ruin lives.

When a bet turns to debt: How gambling ruins lives

SARAH Wilson (not her real name) worked in the gambling industry for a decade and watched people gamble their homes, savings and lives away, but never imagined it would happen to her.

The pensioner lives in Murgon and said her partner's gambling habit cost her her land, home and car.

He lost about $400,000 and sent them bankrupt. "Any type of gambling you can think of, he did," she said.

"Blackjack, Keno, horses, casinos - he destroyed everything I had."

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About 600,000 Australians play poker machines weekly, and about 15% of these regular players are problem gamblers, according to the 2010 Productivity Commission Inquiry Report into Gambling.

Mrs Wilson said clubs and casinos encouraged people to spend money and bring punters back again and again.

"They always make you come back - they offer free meals, accommodation, anything to bring you back through the door," she said.

"On certain days of the week we used to give each lady playing a poker machine a flower. I worked out ways to get people to spend money and I always had a conscience about it but I needed the work."

The tables turned when Mrs Wilson met the man whose gambling problem consumed her life.

"The gambling overtook him and it developed into lies and cheating and stealing," she said.

"Gambling is like a drug addiction - those flashing lights and all the music hypes you up. It gives ordinary people importance."

Relationships Australia Queensland Gambling Help Service manager Emma Malone said gambling help services across the State would be hosting activities in their local communities to raise awareness of gambling issues.

"We'll be encouraging Queenslanders to remember that while most Australians love a gamble, some of us can get in over our heads," Ms Malone said.

"We want to remove the stigma attached to problem gambling and drive behaviour change so that gamblers seek counselling assistance, explore self-help options and know that they can self-exclude from gambling venues."

Mrs Wilson has left her partner and managed to get back on her feet.

She said she would never get close to gambling again.

"It might start off as a social thing, but it can turn into a problem," she said.

"It's up to the individual to stop - if you're going to gamble, you've got to suffer the consequences."

For information on gambling help, phone the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858. 

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