Kerri, 40, had never gambled online (I had gambled at casinos previously) before she and her partner started making £1 online bets on the football games they loved to watch together. “It began as a way to make the games more interesting,”
Then the site they used gave her £200 of free bets. “It was fun at first but then my partner went back to university and I was stuck, in a not-great job, in a not-great new flat. Because my partner was at uni, I felt I needed to earn more money for us and gambling seemed like a good way to do that.”
Within six months of making her first £1 bet, Kerri was gambling daily. “It had stopped being fun by then. I was chasing my losses. It had become an emotional thing. I was addicted.” Kerri was betting increasing sums of money and suddenly found herself seriously in debt. “I was using gambling to escape my other problems, I felt neglected and gambling replaced what I was missing. I could invest my time in it and distract myself from my thoughts and difficulties.”
The addiction lasted five years, cost her £100,000 and was, she says, “literally a 24-hour thing. I was setting my phone to wake me up at night (I checked my phone during the night, not to wake me up) with notifications of matches being played around the world that I’d bet on. My partner, sleeping right next to me, didn’t notice a thing.
“I don’t know how I still had a job. I used to get up from my desk constantly to take my phone outside and gamble. I used to gamble on my phone while sitting opposite my dad in restaurants.
When Kerri first tried to stop gambling, she managed only six weeks. “I thought that once I admitted it, it would get better. My dad paid off my £25,000 debt, but because I hadn’t addressed the underlying issues, him clearing my debt just meant I could start again. In no time at all, I had doubled the debt he had cleared.”
Kerri was close to killing herself after a row over gambling with her mother, her partner and her partner’s mother. “I felt my life was crumbling around me. I had had thoughts about different ways of ending things a few days before. That day, my feelings of hopelessness escalated. I was in a daze. I didn’t want to be here any more. I couldn’t see how things could be turned around.”
“It made me feel very lonely. I was living a separate, secret life that completely obsessed me and it seemed no one cared enough to even notice. That made me feel even more alone.” “I’m mostly ashamed of the lies I told everyone. I’m a very honest person and it was scary that I could lie so well. They just rolled off my tongue.”
She was sitting on the edge of a canal when an elderly lady stopped and talked to her. She asked if Kerri was OK and it made something “snap back to normal” in her head. Kerri contacted GamCare and the gambling-addiction charity Gordon Moody Association and arranged weekly, remote counselling by video link. She attended Gamblers Anonymous meetings every week.
“I’ve never gambled since,” she says. “I handed my bank cards to my mum, got a phone with no internet access and stopped watching sports. The most important thing was to start talking to people about it. I’ve become very open and reflective. I no longer bottle things up.”
Kerri now works as an outreach recovery worker for the Retreat and Counselling treatment programme at Gordon Moody and urges other women gamblers to ask for help. “To any gamblers out there, I’d say they should talk to someone. Ask for help because help is available – and it really does work.”
Or, listen to Tracy who overcame the stigma of feeling like she was the only woman with a gambling addiction.