SUNDAY TIMES - Don't let gambling ruin your life
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Sunday Times Opinion By Dineo Tsamela, 2017-04-16 00:00:00.0

Don't let gambling ruin your life

Problem gambling has a knock-on effect on other members of your family. Like all addictions, it can be beaten.
Image: TMG

Those who have been affected by a gambling addiction - either their own or that of a loved one - know it's very difficult to recover from the financial consequences.

Bridget Khuzwayo's* addiction cost her dearly - she lost her husband and her home, and the urge to play the slots alienated her from her children.

She was also suspended from work for absenteeism, but even this didn't stop her.

"It took a very long time for me to wake up. Even when I had lost everything, I continued to go back to the casino," she says.

Khuzwayo was banned from several casinos in her home province of KwaZulu-Natal.

"I used to travel to Johannesburg and Sun City just to gamble. Sometimes I'd spend days there, stuck with nowhere to go because I'd spent all my money."

Khuzwayo knew she was addicted when she squandered her children's school fees on gambling then lied to her husband about it.

He gave her the R5,500 for her daughter's fees but she went to the casino and gambled it away, emerging the next morning with less than R100 to her name. Her husband found out, and it was at that point that it all unravelled.

Khuzwayo's addiction landed her in a lot of debt. "When banks stopped giving me credit, I turned to abomashonisa [loan sharks]."

Once, Khuzwayo won about R25,000 in one night but she lost most of it and left with R2,000.

The National Responsible Gambling Programme offers a self-exclusion agreement which addicts can ask casinos to impose on them. The exclusion is enforced for at least six months, and those who breach the terms of the contract by going to the casino can be found guilty of trespassing.

It's also very difficult for family members to address the problem, but it's useful to be able to identify the signs of addiction and take steps to help the gambler see their problem.

As with drug addiction, spotting a gambling addict comes with being able to identify compulsive behaviour.

According to the South African Responsible Gambling Foundation, a person has a gambling problem if they:

  • Gamble until their very last rand is gone;
  • Neglect financial obligations in order to gamble;
  • Try to cover up losses by gambling more in the hope of winning back the money;
  • Allow gambling to interfere with work;
  • Sell household items or consider illegal activity to finance their gambling; and
  • Let relationships suffer to continue gambling.

Overcoming a gambling addiction is much like dealing with any other addiction - it starts with a willingness to admit you havea problem and asking for help, says the foundation.

Khuzwayo says she still thinks about going back - although it's not as bad as before.

She's now under debt review and working to pay off her debt and move out of her family home - where she had to move after losing her house.

"It has been a very difficult time. Sometimes, when I don't miss gambling, I ask myself what I was thinking.

"But I can't change anything - all I can do is focus on rebuilding my life," says Khuzwayo.

*Not her real name

Contact the Responsible Gambling Foundation on 0800-006-008 or visit responsiblegambling.org.za

Tsamela is a community manager at Standard Bank Securities. Follow her on Twitter @DineoTsamela