Daniel Connell, photo: Paul Jeffers
On 22 February 2009, I stopped gambling. I was 25 and I didn't have a cent to my name. During the six years before this date, I lost somewhere between ninety and one hundred thousand dollars gambling.
New freedom and a new trap
I started gambling from a young age, but my problem didn't begin until I moved away from my hometown at 19. I was living away from my family and friends for the first time and I was working my first full-time job.
For the next six years I spent the majority of my weekly pay on gambling. I gambled predominantly on horseracing, but also on sport and poker from time to time. Losing money became normal for me, I became immune to the disappointment of losing and never gave it a second thought.
No-one close to me knew I had a problem, I'd created this façade in my life that everything was fine. But in reality I didn’t have a cent to my name, I was constantly worried I wouldn’t be able to pay for the basics, and I often felt disappointed in myself.
My last gambling day
In September of 2008 I took a gamble of a different kind – I tried my hand at stand-up comedy. It was something I'd always wanted to do. I was hooked after that first gig, so much so that I'm still doing it today.
Looking back, I have no doubt that starting stand-up comedy helped me stop gambling. It gave me something else to think about and got me out of the cycle I was in – the cycle of reading the race form on a Friday and going to the TAB on Saturday and Sunday, or checking a golf event on a Wednesday, then placing a bet on a Thursday.
I'd created this façade in my life that everything was fine.
I started making rules for myself. If I had a gig at night, I wouldn't gamble that day because I wanted my luck to go towards the comedy. On Saturdays, when I'd normally be watching and betting on horseracing, I'd force myself to stay home and write jokes. I couldn't get enough of stand-up comedy – I loved it, and at the same time, I started to dislike losing money.
So on 22 February 2009, I was back at the TAB. It was a Sunday and I'd lost all my money. My next payday was Thursday. I walked out of the TAB that day angry with myself. I'd been in this position so many times and I was sick of it.
I drove home and wrote 'last day gambling' on my calendar. I thought I'd try and get through a month of no gambling. After a month, I made it three months, then after six months, I thought I'd try a full year. Seven years later I still haven't had a bet.
I won't lie – it was hard to get through those first six months. I had dreams about putting bets on, and twice I drove and parked outside the TAB. Thankfully, I didn't go in.
One of the main reasons I forced myself to stop was because I wanted to move to Melbourne for comedy, and I knew if I had no money I wouldn't be able to do that. I moved to Melbourne in 2010, one year after I stopped gambling. I had $14,000 in my bank account when I moved.
At the 2015 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I did a show called 'The Get Out Stakes'. It was all about that six-year period of my life. It felt extremely satisfying to talk about it and to share my story with others. I wanted to let people who are gambling know that even though it feels like there's no way out, there most certainly is.
I won't lie – it was hard to get through those first six months.
Stand-up comedy gave me something else to think about – I broke the cycle without even realising. I'm not saying that to stop gambling you need to do stand-up comedy (you can if you want to), I'm saying that breaking up your gambling routine by shifting your focus to something else is a great place to start.
Today I can safely say that I'll never gamble again. The further away time gets from 22 February 2009, the more I'm certain of this.
My six-year experience affected my life in many ways, I could have put a deposit on a house with the money I lost and I could have spent more time with family and friends instead of standing in a TAB. Today I try to see family and friends whenever I can, plus I appreciate money a hell of a lot more.
If you are experiencing problems with gambling or are affected by someone else’s gambling, call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858. Find out more about getting help.