INVITATIONS to have a flutter on something are common place in modern society whether it’s a bet on a horse race; a go on a slot machine or a game of online bingo. But away from all the bright lights and guarantees of big prizes there is a darker side to gambling and someone who knows this all too well is Tony from Berwick.
Sadly like a lot of impressionable youngsters, Tony got hooked on gambling as a teenager and his addiction stayed with him for well over 10 years, costing him and his family tens of thousands of pounds.
Now, having not placed a bet in over seven years he is on a mission to help others come to terms with their destructive habit by way of a new Borders Gamblers Anonymous group, which meets every Thursday at Kelso North and Ednam Parish Church.
Putting himself back in the shoes of his 16-year-old self and thinking back to the moment which changed his life for the worse, Tony tells ‘Life’: “There are some people who can win and walk away or lose and walk away but unfortunately I realised more or less straight away.
“My early experience of gambling was predominantly playing on fruit and roulette machines which later moved on to betting on racing and football to get my buzz.
“Some people talk about an invisible line they cross as their addiction gets stronger but I believe I was hooked straight away.”
On the face of things Tony had a lot going for him back then - he had a supportive family and his own house but as his addiction tightened its grip on him the walls started to crumble around him and his personality altered.
“I got my first mortage when I was 19,” he recalls.
“Granted they were a lot cheaper back then but that was a big thing for a lad my age. However, by the time I was 21 my house had been re-possessed.
“I couldn’t use my money on normal expenditure like other people; I ploughed it all into gambling.
“My mum bailed me out a few times with thousands of pounds of her own money.
“It was then that I sank to a new low - I started to steal from my family to fund my addiction and I resorted to selling drugs and stolen goods.
“I did a lot of things I’m not proud of and looking back if I had carried on the way I was going I think I was destined for one of three outcomes: prison, a psychiatric ward or an early grave.
“When I was at my lowest suicide became a possible option for me. I never made an actual attempt on my own life but I considered it on a number of occasions.”
It wasn’t just Tony’s relations with his family that became strained as a result of his destructive habit; his love life also suffered and he is ashamed to admit that not even finding out his girlfriend was carrying his child was enough for him to nip it in the bud.
“Gambling made me a nasty person,” he candidly admits.
“I developed a lot of unsavoury characteristics - I was selfish, egotistical had little respect for anyone or anything.
“I did have a few girlfriends when my addiction was at its worst but the relationships were destroyed as a result of it.
“Eventually I got in a relationship which was going well and my gambling subsided a bit.
“I found out my partner was pregnant with our daughter and I’d love to say that that was the catalyst to make me stop but it wasn’t.
“I didn’t gamble to win, I gambled to gamble and sure enough in 2005 I hit what I would call my version of rock bottom.
“I grew sick of gambling and everything that came with it but selfishly it wasn’t until I was tired of it that I started to look for some help.”
Tony’s quest to rid himself of his habit led to him ringing the Gamblers Anonymous helpline, a move he says wasn’t an easy one to make.
“I was petrified to phone as I knew there was no going back from the moment I spoke to someone.
“I knew I’d have to bare my soul and after talking to me the guy on the other end of the phone said the best thing to do would be to go along to a GA meeting.
“As luck would have it there was one only 500 yards from where I was staying at the time and I still remember vividly what I was like when I went to my first meeting.
“I hovered around outside until someone approached and asked if I was there for the meeting. I went in and as they say the rest is history.”
Just like over a decade earlier when a turn on a fruit machine put his life on a worrying path, Tony’s first experience of a Gamblers Anonymous meeting had a profound effect to turn things round and he hasn’t placed a bet ever since.
“I remember the date well,” he explains. “It was June 16 2005 and I haven’t looked back since.
“When you go along to Gamblers Anonymous there’s people who haven’t placed a bet in weeks, months or even years and years.
“You’ve just got to take things a day at a time. I found it quite easy to stop once I decided to do so; the problem is staying away from gambling.
The common theme amongst all gamblers is lies so learning to be honest again was the biggest thing.
“Slowly I have become a better person and I’ll continue to go to meetings because prior to joining GA I’d done everything in my power to stop without success and my life and my family’s life has changed for the better so why would I want to stop?”
And Tony’s advice to anyone who feels they need to make contact with GA but is apprehensive to do so?
“Everyone who’s behind the door at a meeting has sat in the chair you’re about to sit in; they’ve all been there before.
“I’ve yet to meet anyone who has gone along to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting and failed to stop their addiction.
“What you’ll take away from the first meeting is a sense that you’re not alone and I’ve never been to a meeting where I haven’t received a friendly welcome.”
The Kelso GA meetings take place every Thursday in Kelso North and Ednam Parish Church from 7.30-9.30pm.
Gamblers Anonymous 24 hour hotline can be reached on 0370 0508881.