The following contains mention of suicidal ideation, which may be triggering for some readers.
When Sandra's son, William*, turned 18 in early 2019, he did what many young Australian men do. He went to the horse races and the casino with his friends. There, he indulged in an experience opened up to him by his passage into adulthood. Gambling.
He won $800 that day.
Sandra admits she and her husband celebrated the news when he came home that evening. After all, that's a lot of money for a teenager — and what luck!
"I do remember my husband saying to him, 'It doesn't happen like that all the time. You have to be aware of that we don't hear about people's losses.' Something like that," Sandra told Mamamia. "But we certainly didn't make a big deal about that. We were excited for him.
"Looking back, I should have been horrified..."
Sandra can't help but ponder that and other 'what-ifs' of the past two years. What has followed since that day has been one of the most challenging periods the Western Australian family has faced.
William, now 20, has lost roughly $70,000 to online gambling; an addiction that has left him in debt to friends and his parents, and caused significant emotional distress for them all.
"He couldn't stop himself from betting."
It's clear Australia has a gambling problem.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, we lost $25 billion on legal forms of gambling in 2018-19 — the largest per capita losses of any country in the world.
Our preferred way to wager is still poker machines. But thanks to mobile phone technology and the concerted marketing efforts of bookmakers, online gambling is the fastest-growing.
And that's where young men come in.
They're betting more, and losing more, to the extent that men aged 18–34 are now considered the demographic most at risk of problem gambling.
During the initial months of 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns, for example, the average monthly amount they spent on betting increased by more than 50 per cent to $1075.
That's where the majority of William's money went.