Mario Bird, photo: Paul Jeffers
My first warning sign that gambling could become a problem came when I was six or seven years old. My nanna took me to Ringwood TAB to bet on the Melbourne Cup. I asked Nanna if I could put a bet on the race after the Cup, too. I remember vividly that an old guy grabbed me by the shoulders, shook me and said, ‘You’ll be gone for life, son.’ He was almost right.
I found gambling at 16. It was a match made in heaven. I was bored. I hated school. I loved the challenge of picking a horse and the lure of winning money. It was only 50 cents and one-dollar bets, but it grew from there. I was getting drunk and partying with my friends and gambling. I was oblivious to everything else, especially what was going to happen down the track. I had a disposable income and few responsibilities. I was dishwashing and I used to flog money from my dad. At the time, I didn’t care. That’s a tough thing to reflect on.
I was getting drunk and partying with my friends and gambling.
I had a group of ten mates. There was a split down the middle, between the gamblers and the non-punters, which included my best mate. I lost that relationship for a time.
King for a day, fool for a lifetime
The first album I ever loved was Faith No More’s ‘King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime’. I went to TAFE for a year and a half and then began working for a paver. I was putting $1000 a week into gambling. I was king for a day maybe four times a year with $50 notes hanging out of every pocket. But I was becoming a fool for a lifetime.
I didn’t recognise the early warning signs. I reckon I ran out of petrol 40 times when I first got my licence. I struggled to pay off the $30-a-week loan for my first car. I was used to going hungry during the week at work. For lunch, I’d bring whatever was in the fridge – a jar of capers or a block of cheese.
I didn’t recognise the early warning signs. I reckon I ran out of petrol 40 times when I first got my licence.
Falling in love
In 2005, I fell in love twice – with my wife and with multi-betting. A winning streak that came early – a bet of three dollars resulted in over $3000 – made me think it came easy. I was sadly mistaken.
I promised my wife I would limit my betting to $100 a week. But she started getting suspicious when she noticed me going back and forth to my car all the time. I remember holding my daughter in my arms and looking out our window while my wife went through the car. I was thinking, ‘If she looks under the front mat, I’m in a bit of trouble.’ She found $500 worth of betting tickets. I look back on it and I feel ashamed. My wife suggested counselling and I tried to manage my gambling. It worked for short periods of time and then I’d end up blowing it.
Taking a stand
Five years ago, my business was fair at best. If I did a crap job, it didn’t matter, as long as I got the money. It had a knock-on effect. I was always scratching around to find work because I didn’t do a good job. My truck had blown up and I borrowed my grandpa’s. My wife was close to leaving me and we had a two-year-old daughter. I was drowning in debt. I was 32 – not young, but not old either. I was sabotaging my life.
The date 18 June 2012 is etched in my mind. It’s the day I decided to take a stand. I would save my fractured marriage and my poor excuse for a business, and put an end to my rollercoaster life. In the shower, I conceded to myself that I’d had my last bet. I cried, I threw up. It was like mourning a friend who had passed away.
I was 32 – not young, but not old either. I was sabotaging my life.
I had to fill the huge void in my life that gambling had left. I took up long-distance running. It was the challenge, plus I was 10 kilos overweight. I decided I’d run a marathon every year for 10 years. I’m coming up to my sixth, and they don’t get any easier.
The first two years were the hardest. With the support of my wife and my family, I beat my addiction and my business began to turn around. My wife and I would never have made it if I hadn’t stopped gambling. I now also have a son and this wouldn’t have happened if I had continued down the path I was on. Now I can appreciate the good things in life.
My wife and I would never have made it if I hadn’t stopped gambling.
Telling my story
I want to tell my story to young men to keep them away from the harm of gambling. I don’t want them to go through what I’ve gone through.
Watching a game of footy in a pub, I know that more than half of the young men are betting. It’s part of the game now. That’s unfortunate and concerning.
How to get help
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 help, including online help and self-help tools, visit: gamblershelp.com.au.
Mario 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.