It was little things, small behaviours, that piqued Olivia’s suspicion about her partner.
When they’d go to bed, he’d angle his body away from her, shielding his phone screen from her view.
“That’s not like him at all,” the 21-year-old told Mamamia. “I’m actually the unaffectionate one in the relationship; he normally wants to be touching a lot, and so that sudden desire for distance kind of made me a bit concerned about what he was doing.”
It was nothing, he told her. Just Instagram. But one evening the Brisbane woman caught a glimpse of the truth; a betting app.
The deception struck a nerve.
“I’ve grown up in a household where lying is probably one of the worst things you can do to each other,” she said. “My parents have always had strict rules – we don’t lie. It’s just not right.”
The lie he told that evening was only the beginning.
Australians are among the world’s most prolific gamblers. According to the most recent data, the average Aussie adult shelled out $1,272.81 in the year 2015-16, and our nationwide spend was $23.648 billion.
While all expenditure on all the main types of gambling increased compared to the previous year, the fastest-growing segment is interactive (ie. online) gambling – think app-based sports and race betting, for example.
Far from the stereotypical TAB-haunting retiree, interactive gamblers are more likely to be young men, and according to the Australian Gambling Research Centre, more likely to experience gambling problems than “traditional” gamblers.
Dr Kate Fennessy, Coordinator of the Gambling Treatment Program at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, said she’s observed a marked increase in young men seeking treatment over last five years. Part of it is access (largely driven by smartphones and ubiquitous advertising), but part of it is more ingrained.
“What makes it more difficult for young men is that they’re geared to have more risk-taking tendencies,” she told Mamamia. “The way that their brains are built makes them more prone to boredom and impulsivity, and those types of things can make them more vulnerable.”
Author Elizabeth Gilbert has four questions you should ask yourself before you let anyone into your inner circle. (Post continues below.)
For Olivia’s partner, it started with friends. A mate put him onto a sports-betting app, and together they’d wager on horse races, the results and occasional winnings fed instantly into the palms of their hands.
He’d never had any trouble walking away from a pokie machine or casino table, but with the apps it was different, Olivia said. There was no cash to withdraw, no card to pull from his wallet. Nothing tangible to reinforce what he was risking and losing.
The gambling intensified with the death of a close relative in mid 2017. “I think the betting became a escape from reality, from grief,” Olivia said. “He could pull out his phone and for a few minutes wouldn’t have to think about what’s just happened.”
When one credit card was maxed out, he moved on to a second. All over the course of six months. It wasn’t until January this year that Olivia finally learned the extent of it all. After multiple assurances he wasn’t betting, relapses, promises and remorseful tears, she discovered he’d taken out a personal loan from the bank to fund his habit.
“It’s caused a lot of hurt, and also disappointment. It’s disappointing that he lied to me for so long,” she said. “But there’s also a lot of fear. Fear of what he could have done to himself.”