'I would drop the kids to school then go': How gambling took over Kylie's life.

Gambling was always a part of Kylie’s* life. Growing up, her parents would play the lotto, bet on horses, and greyhound racing. Her mum loved bingo and buying scratchies, her dad loved the races at betting at the TAB.

"Television would portray casinos as being fun and exciting and a place you could change your life forever," Kylie tells Mamamia. "I was never really interested until a major event changed my life."

When Kylie got married, she didn’t recognise the signs of coercive or financial control.

"I know it sounds silly, but I didn’t understand anything about narcissism, coercive control, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse.

"I met my ex husband on a night out one October, I was pregnant by Christmas, then my fate was sealed. We decided to have our baby together and everything that entailed."

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Looking back, Kylie says the red flags were there from the beginning.

"In the first week of meeting, he was parked outside my house in the early hours of the morning waiting for me to come home. At the time, I didn’t see it as stalking or controlling, I just thought he must really like me."


When they first moved in together, the control was subtle. But as the arrival of their baby daughter drew closer, things became worse, and the financial abuse escalated.

"He made me file for bankruptcy as he refused to pay my bills while I was off work having my daughter," she says.

"Once my baby was born, the financial control escalated to even harassing me if I used $20 to put fuel in the car.

"Being young and naïve, I just wanted to be a good mother and wife living the life I had always wanted with a family of my own."

Soon, there were signs of infidelity, but Kylie’s husband always had an excuse. Over the next few years, they had two more children, which only made his ability to control her even easier. 

"He basically controlled everything, and if I did anything he deemed as wrong, the children were punished somehow.

"If I didn’t work, the children would have no dance lessons or new clothes. We couldn’t eat fish or chicken or steak, it was only things he liked."

Looking for an escape.

More than ten years into the marriage, Kylie discovered proof that her husband was having an affair. Devastated, she travelled interstate to spend some time with her sister. They headed to the casino where Kylie’s sister taught her how to use a pokie machine. That night changed everything.

"When I returned home, I made the decision to keep my family together. Then I started going to the local pub at the end of my street to play on the pokies. I remember saying things like 'these are like ATMs giving out money'."


But it was more than that. The pokies became an escape, a way to cope with the escalating abuse at home.

"The more miserable I was at home, the more exciting it was to be playing the pokies. I would stay there late after dinner. Then I started dropping the kids to school and going to the pokies. Winning jackpots would be so exciting, and so I just did it more and more."

Eventually, she started venturing to the casino. Gambling became the only thing Kylie wanted to do.

"It would take me away from all my stress and problems, but the financial toll and losses started to become a problem."

Most of the time, Kylie wouldn’t tell anyone where she was or what she was doing. Eventually, she began withdrawing money from the mortgage to feed her gambling habit, and everything started to unravel.

After several suicide attempts, Kylie was admitted to hospital where she spent six weeks in full-time treatment.

"My psychiatrist was instrumental in my discovery that I was in an abusive marriage and I knew that if I didn’t leave the marriage myself, I was going to leave in a coffin."

When she left hospital, Kylie found the courage to tell her husband the marriage was over, and moved into the spare room of her parents’ home. That night, he broke into that home, and sexually assaulted her. The assault, sent Kylie into a relapse, and she returned to hospital for another six weeks.

"The next time I was discharged, I went to a domestic violence refuge. I decided not to take my children as they would have had to change schools and friends, and at that point, I didn’t even know if I was going to survive. My only focus was getting better and getting back to my children."


She returned to her husband, spending a year in full-time therapy, only leaving the house to shop or take her children to where they needed to be. But she still wanted to leave the marriage.

"My husband said I could leave, but I would leave with nothing, and he made sure it stayed that way.

"If I thought my ex husband was controlling during the marriage that was nothing compared to when I left, and to this day he has gotten away with everything he ever did."

For the next year, Kylie continued to abstain from gambling. But as the stress of the divorce and post separation abuse grew, Kylie fell back into her old coping mechanisms.

"When I was being hammered and harassed constantly, the gambling was always there. I’d go into a club, into the air conditioning with an icy cold Diet Coke, and all my problems would disappear. But of course that was not the reality.

"I managed to pay the bills, feed and clothe the kids, but the rest went on the pokies."

With gambling came extreme highs and extreme lows. On one occasion, Kylie walked out of the casino with $30,000 worth of winnings. She then sold her car for $10,000, walked right back into the casino, and lost the lot.

"I broke my children’s hearts on numerous occasions. They all know I’m a compulsive gambler, my eldest daughter helps me to protect my money. I’ve lied, stolen, begged and borrowed to gamble."

Ultimately, Kylie returned to therapy after being banned from multiple venues, and broke free from her addiction. But she knows it could be temporary.


"I am currently free from gambling, but I know that it could only be a breakup or God-knows-what that will start me off again.

"I rebuilt my life and created businesses and a career I love, but I doubt I will ever own property again. Even though I have had opportunities, I gambled them all away."

What leads to gambling addiction?

"Financial abuse can have profound and lasting effects on individuals, often leading to a range of negative outcomes, including mental health issues and addictive behaviours," psychotherapist, Karen Phillip, tells Mamamia.

That includes gambling, which can impact people from all walks of life.

"It's crucial to approach the topic of gambling addiction with sensitivity and understanding, recognising that it can impact individuals regardless of their background," says Phillip.

"Research suggests that certain personality traits, such as impulsivity and sensation-seeking, can contribute to a heightened vulnerability to gambling addiction. Additionally, exposure to gambling activities, either through family members, peers, or media, can also play a role in shaping one's susceptibility to addiction.

"People can become addicted to gambling for various reasons, and it's often a complex interplay of psychological, social, and biological factors.

"For some people, gambling serves as a way to escape from stress, anxiety, depression, or other unpleasant emotions. It can temporarily distract them from their problems or provide a sense of relief."

There are other triggers too, such as the thrill of the win, financial temptation, social connection or a tendency towards risk-taking behaviour.


"It's important to recognise that gambling addiction is a complex and multifaceted issue, and individuals may have unique reasons for engaging in excessive or problematic gambling behaviours. Gambling often serves as a symptom of underlying issues or needs that compel individuals towards engaging in such behaviour."

If you notice gambling is becoming a problem, it's essential to take action to address it.

"Remember, gambling is a choice, and each person does have control over their choices, both good and bad. Make the choice that will benefit you and your family."

If you’re struggling to control your impulses, seek professional help.

* Name has been changed to protect privacy.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)—the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a national organisation that helps women, children and families move on after the devastation of domestic and family violence. Their mission is to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most. If you would like to support their mission you can donate here.

Feature image: Getty.

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