Edition #10: Working together to prevent harm

Photo of an older man with short grey hair and a grey moustache, wearing a blue and white striped polo shirt, standing in a suburban driveway, hands in pockets, smiling at the camera.
Photo of an older man with short grey hair and a grey moustache, wearing a blue and white striped polo shirt, standing in a suburban driveway, hands in pockets, smiling at the camera.
Ken Wolfe, photo: Paul Jeffers

The talking cure: the sooner the better

I started gambling 50 years ago, when I was a boy of 15. I was good enough to play senior cricket and football and I’d be getting a ride to the games with these older blokes. They’d stop off for a bet at the TAB and I’d tag along. They’d brag about their winnings and I thought, ‘That sounds alright’. I was getting $10 a week off the old girl and the bloke at the TAB didn’t mind taking my money.

It was the glamour that got me. Being part of their scene, the older fellows. By the time I’m 18, I’m borrowing money for gambling. I’m losing mates. Everyone’s asking for their money back. I don’t have it. But I’m stupidly hopeful. The next one is the big one. I can pay it all back, start over.

It was the glamour that got me. Being part of their scene, the older fellows.

If only I’d put up my hand up, back then. If only I’d told someone. This is what I tell the young male gamblers I speak to through the ReSPIN program. You gotta talk about it, you gotta own it, you gotta be honest and be accountable to the people who are helping you. Look at what happens otherwise. I carried on with the lies, wearing all these masks, full of shame.

It didn’t end until I heard the words: ‘You’re under arrest’.

The double life: good cop, bad bloke

At 20 years of age, I joined the police force, my burning ambition. And I was a really good cop. There’s nothing slack about reaching the rank of sergeant. I was a good and honest cop. I’d sworn to uphold the right and I never broke that vow as far as the job went. But really, I was like a high-functioning alcoholic. And in fact, like many cops, I was drinking to kill the pain of the job, to cope with the terrible things you see: the car crashes, the murders and suicides. And there were other cops like me who loved a bet. We’d only drink where there was a tote.

If only I’d put up my hand up, back then. If only I’d told someone.

By the age of 27, I’m married with two kids. Living from pay cheque to pay cheque. With half the pay cheque gone. And I’m blaming them and everyone else, except myself. My wife would say I loved the horses more than I loved her and I’d go off my brain. Because it was true. And everyone saying what a good bloke I was.

Giving up what I loved, to start over

Eighteen years go by and one day I realise I’m vulnerable as a cop. I worry I won’t be able to uphold the right anymore. Because I owe so much money and I’m out of control and something has to give. So, I get a plan. I’ll leave the force and cash in my superannuation and pay back all the money I owe. I’m thinking I can sort everything out. And for a while, it seems to work. But I have too much time on my hands, and really, I’m white-knuckling it: trying to give up gambling without any help. In spite of all my good intentions to make things right, I head downhill. Worse than ever.

My wife would say I loved the horses more than I loved her and I’d go off my brain.

I got work in local government, doing enforcement, parking etc. Then, in 1998, I got a job enforcing a local council’s planning schemes. Making sure people don’t whack up buildings without a permit. It is one big den of temptation because people are trying to throw money at me, left, right and centre. I’m talking bribes. But I resisted. I kept them at bay. Then one day, in a moment of weakness, I took a bribe. Once I was in, I was in. And the only way out, as far as I could tell, was suicide.

It didn’t end until I heard the words: ‘You’re under arrest’.

But it came to an end in a different way, on 3 November 2010. Two detectives. Me sitting on the opposite side. I’m going to prison because it’s a fair amount of money: $134,000. I should have been running a company, but there I was waiting to go to court.

Finally, I had the conversation with my wife I should have had years before. Because she never had a clue about how bad it was. The upshot of it is, she stuck by me. I did 20 months in prison and she’s still here. I’m 64 years old. I don’t have a job and my name’s all over the internet. But I’ve got my family and I’ve got my story.

So, I get to speak with these young blokes and I tell them what it takes to get out in good order: strength, courage, accountability and responsibility, wrapped up in honesty. Start talking. Do it now.

How to get support

If you have concerns about your gambling, or are affected by someone else’s gambling, call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858. To find out more about getting support, including online help and self-help tools, visit: gamblershelp.com.au.

Ken is a community educator with ReSPIN Gambling Awareness Speakers Bureau, which trains and supports speakers to talk to community groups and organisations about the effects of gambling harm on individuals, families, friends, employers and colleagues.

Read more personal stories from people who have experienced gambling harm.

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