Bayu Pratama, photo: Paul Jeffers
I came to Australia from Indonesia in 2011. I was exposed to gambling a year later when I was 17. My friend, who was 18, took me to the pub where he was putting bets on the horses. I was intrigued by the enthusiasm of the race caller and the sound of the horses’ hooves. I placed some small bets and lost. Then I bet on a quinella and won. It wasn’t much, maybe only nine dollars. But I started going back to the TAB every week.
The rush of adrenaline
Although I was playing football and even represented Indonesia in the Australian Football International Cup, I had never experienced anything like the adrenaline rush of winning a bet.
Several months later, I was kicked out of a TAB for underage gambling. As a migrant, I was afraid that my visa might get cancelled or my passport taken away. I managed to stay away for five months, then I turned 18.
It was school holidays and my mum and stepdad were working. I was often home alone and bored. Out of nowhere I thought: ‘I’m a responsible adult now, I can do what I want’. I had worked at McDonalds since I was 17 and had my own money. I started going to the TAB daily and betting small amounts.
I had never experienced anything like the adrenaline rush of winning a bet.
I made friends with other punters, began to understand the form guide and became interested in horse breeding. But I was uncomfortable with the explicit language some punters used and switched to online betting. I didn’t have to leave the house to gamble and my habit became worse.
When I left school, I studied sports development at Victoria University. That was a nightmare because the main campus is next to Flemington Racecourse. I was missing lectures, going to the TAB and betting online. My uni mates belittled me: ‘Don’t you know gambling is stupid?’ They were trying to help but I found them insulting.
I became friends with some people in the racing industry and was employed as a stable hand. I was getting inside information on the horses but still losing money. And while I met many nice people in the racing community, there were things I didn’t like. I worked long hours and didn’t have much of a social life. I felt isolated and quit after six months.
Quitting on the back of winning
I began working as a kitchenhand and kept gambling. In 2016, I put my lifesavings on Winx to win the Cox Plate. When she won, I was overwhelmed with adrenaline. My hands were shaking. I wanted to enjoy the win, not gamble it away. I quit gambling on the back of winning.
I put my lifesavings on Winx to win the Cox Plate.
In 2017, a friend took me to the cricket at the MCG. I was bored. I left my seat and found the TAB. In less than two hours I lost almost all my savings. I was shattered. I told my friend I wasn’t feeling well. On the way home I had time to reflect. I rang my friend and told her, ‘I think I have a problem’. She responded, ‘That’s okay. We’ll get help for you’.
Her compassion made me think I could change.
Finding my passion
My friend suggested I call beyondblue and I was referred to a psychologist. I wanted strategies to stop gambling but they were focused on my personal life. I quit after five sessions. My friend then recommended I volunteer at the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY).
The temptation to gamble is still there, but helping other young people achieve their dreams is part of my recovery.
I became a youth facilitator, advising migrants and refugees on what certificates and apprenticeships they needed to achieve their goals. They were passionate, with so many dreams. It really changed my thinking. I then applied to join the CMY core advisory group. In the interview I was asked about my passion. Straightaway I said, ‘I don’t want young people to gamble’.
I contacted ReSpin, where I began as a speaker in early 2018. The temptation to gamble is still there, but helping other young people achieve their dreams is part of my recovery. It isn’t about the winning anymore. CMY and ReSpin have given me a platform to help others, and that’s what I needed.
I’m now studying to become a youth worker. I work as a waiter at the Melbourne Racing Club – I know! I know! But now I have control over myself. Back when I was gambling, I didn’t have the control.
How to get support
If you have a gambling problem, or are affected by someone else's gambling, support is available 24/7. Call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858 or Gambler's Help Youthline on 1800 262 376.
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.
Bayu is a speaker with ReSPIN Gambling Awareness Speakers Bureau, which trains and supports speakers to talk to community groups and organisations about the effects of gambling harm on individuals, families, friends, employers and colleagues.