Jake Newstadt, photo: Paul Jeffers
Story update: watch the video of Jake talking about his issues with gambling for Responsible Gambling Awareness Week 2015
I started to like horse racing when I was 12.
For me, gambling started out as a Saturday afternoon hobby, betting on the races at home with my dad and brother. But what started out as a harmless hobby, over time, began to consume my life.
When I was 17 I started going to the races frequently and would often lose more than I could afford. While at university, my part-time jobs always revolved around gambling. At first I worked for a lottery company*, then at a TAB agency.
After my commerce degree, I landed my dream role as a racing and sports trader at a well-known online betting company*. It was now my job to live and breathe gambling and racing. I found myself devoting more and more of my spare time to it. I'd look forward to finishing work so I could go home to gamble. I'd often bet on my phone while driving home. Despite a no-gambling policy at work, I'd sometimes take my phone to the bathroom and bet.
It was now my job to live and breathe gambling and racing.
Gambling also infiltrated my social life. I no longer had time for friends and would often gamble on Friday and Saturday nights instead of socialising. When some of my friends brought this up I was defensive and justified my behaviour, harming some relationships forever. Even when I managed to pull myself away from gambling, I was barely present because all I could think about was betting.
The biggest problem for me was that I became very good at gambling and started making a lot of money. But I knew my life was out of balance. I quit my job and things got worse. I became a 'professional punter' and during the first three months made roughly $30,000. I thought this financial success would simply continue indefinitely.
Even when I managed to pull myself away from gambling, I was barely present because all I could think about was betting.
On any given day I made or lost up to $8,000. When I lost, I'd get into a horrible mood and be very impatient to recover my losses the next day. I'd often continue gambling into the night to try and win. I also found myself lying to everybody about my wins and losses, thinking nobody understood my situation: that I actually had a gambling system that could generate money. In the fourth month, I lost the entire $30,000.
Subscribe now to receive the next edition of Inside gambling.
The turning point
That was when I stopped gambling. I'd known for a long time it was bad for my wellbeing, but ignored this because of the money I made early on. When I was no longer making money, I could no longer convince myself it was worth it.
Once I stopped, I found myself in real trouble. Horse racing and gambling had been my passion and given me purpose and meaning. I was lost. I began attending a men's circle and seeing a counsellor. Theses outlets really helped get me through my darkest nights. I guess the most important thing for me in stopping was talking about it to people I trusted. It was especially helpful when they were non-judgemental.
I guess the most important thing for me in stopping was talking about it to people I trusted.
I've been able to give more to relationships since I stopped gambling, because my thoughts aren't otherwise preoccupied. My mood has also been much more stable, as opposed to the massive swings I used to experience.
People have noticed the difference. Friends say I'm clearly less anxious and my step mum says I'm more consistent and more available, physically and emotionally.
Although I knew on the day I stopped gambling that it was all behind me, I still have urges. They're less frequent than in the months after I stopped, but they still happen. The difference now is that my journey has given me the strength, resolve and resources to allow them to be there, yet not act on them.
I've recently completed an advanced diploma of counselling. For the practical placement of my course, I decided to volunteer at Gambler's Help Northern for the Peer Connection program. I've been volunteering there for over a year now, using my gambling experience to support people struggling with their own gambling problems.
He'd eat and run, he had no time for family
Jake's stepmum Arlene is very proud of the young man he has become, but she still has vivid memories of the time when betting consumed his life.
'I became aware he was having problems with gambling towards the end of his school days and through university,' she says. 'It just took over his life.'
Arlene has a very special relationship with Jake, coming into his life when he was 11, just before he was introduced to horseracing by his older brother and father.
Going to the track was just an outing for the older pair, who would place the odd bet purely for recreational purposes, but for the young, impressionable Jake, it was the start of an obsession.
Over time, the occasional visit to the track led to a much more intensive period of around nine months when the gambling took over.
'He would spend far too much time in his room and was completely cut off from the family.
'If we had company, he'd eat and run to his room, saying he was tired, but he was going to his room to bet,' says Arlene.
'It took a toll on everything in his life, including health and relationships'.
Unlike some gamblers, however, Jake was never secretive about his betting.
'I think he always knew that gambling wasn't good for him, he kind of knew that the level of obsession he was feeling wasn't healthy,' says Arlene.
'It was this insight that I think helped him turn his life around at a relatively young age before the betting caused long-term damage'.
Arlene describes the change in Jake from his gambling days to today as a total transformation.
'He's an absolute pleasure to be around, he's so engaged with life and with his family and so passionate about using his experience to help others.
'We need more young people like this who are passionate about doing good in the world,' she says.
The pride in Arlene's voice is evident as she's talking about how Jake has turned his life around and it's very apparent that strong support at home has been integral to his transformation.
Arlene is now keen to witness Jake fulfilling his potential and, just like she has been for the past 13 years, she will be right there supporting him.
How to get help
If you have a gambling problem, or are affected by someone else's gambling, call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858 or Gambler's Help Youthline on 1800 262 376.
To find out more about getting support, including online help and self-help tools, visit: gamblershelp.com.au.
Read more personal stories from people who have experienced gambling harm
*company name withheld for legal reasons