Daniel Connell, photo: Paul Jeffers
On 22 February 2009, I stopped gambling. I was 25 and I didn't have a cent to my name. During the six years before this date, I lost somewhere between ninety and one hundred thousand dollars gambling.
New freedom and a new trap
I started gambling from a young age, but my problem didn't begin until I moved away from my hometown at 19. I was living away from my family and friends for the first time and I was working my first full-time job.
For the next six years I spent the majority of my weekly pay on gambling. I gambled predominantly on horseracing, but also on sport and poker from time to time. Losing money became normal for me, I became immune to the disappointment of losing and never gave it a second thought.
No-one close to me knew I had a problem, I'd created this façade in my life that everything was fine. But in reality I didn’t have a cent to my name, I was constantly worried I wouldn’t be able to pay for the basics, and I often felt disappointed in myself.
My last gambling day
In September of 2008 I took a gamble of a different kind – I tried my hand at stand-up comedy. It was something I'd always wanted to do. I was hooked after that first gig, so much so that I'm still doing it today.
Looking back, I have no doubt that starting stand-up comedy helped me stop gambling. It gave me something else to think about and got me out of the cycle I was in – the cycle of reading the race form on a Friday and going to the TAB on Saturday and Sunday, or checking a golf event on a Wednesday, then placing a bet on a Thursday.
I'd created this façade in my life that everything was fine.
I started making rules for myself. If I had a gig at night, I wouldn't gamble that day because I wanted my luck to go towards the comedy. On Saturdays, when I'd normally be watching and betting on horseracing, I'd force myself to stay home and write jokes. I couldn't get enough of stand-up comedy – I loved it, and at the same time, I started to dislike losing money.
So on 22 February 2009, I was back at the TAB. It was a Sunday and I'd lost all my money. My next payday was Thursday. I walked out of the TAB that day angry with myself. I'd been in this position so many times and I was sick of it.
I drove home and wrote 'last day gambling' on my calendar. I thought I'd try and get through a month of no gambling. After a month, I made it three months, then after six months, I thought I'd try a full year. Seven years later I still haven't had a bet.
I won't lie – it was hard to get through those first six months. I had dreams about putting bets on, and twice I drove and parked outside the TAB. Thankfully, I didn't go in.
One of the main reasons I forced myself to stop was because I wanted to move to Melbourne for comedy, and I knew if I had no money I wouldn't be able to do that. I moved to Melbourne in 2010, one year after I stopped gambling. I had $14,000 in my bank account when I moved.
At the 2015 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I did a show called 'The Get Out Stakes'. It was all about that six-year period of my life. It felt extremely satisfying to talk about it and to share my story with others. I wanted to let people who are gambling know that even though it feels like there's no way out, there most certainly is.
I won't lie – it was hard to get through those first six months.
Stand-up comedy gave me something else to think about – I broke the cycle without even realising. I'm not saying that to stop gambling you need to do stand-up comedy (you can if you want to), I'm saying that breaking up your gambling routine by shifting your focus to something else is a great place to start.
Today I can safely say that I'll never gamble again. The further away time gets from 22 February 2009, the more I'm certain of this.
My six-year experience affected my life in many ways, I could have put a deposit on a house with the money I lost and I could have spent more time with family and friends instead of standing in a TAB. Today I try to see family and friends whenever I can, plus I appreciate money a hell of a lot more.
If you are experiencing problems with gambling or are affected by someone else’s gambling, call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858.
To find out more about getting support, including online help and self-help tools, visit: gamblershelp.com.au.
Read more personal stories from people who have experienced gambling harm