How a gambling addiction started with a single bet

A Christchurch man gambled away five years of wages after just one trip to his local casino.

Kiwis lost $2.3 billion in 2017 alone, with up to 60,000 problem gamblers at any one time. It's not just them who lose; the effects of family violence, crime and suicide ripple through our communities and they're all linked to gambling.

When Christchurch Casino first opened, Michael Demchy only meant to give it a try, but found it almost impossible to stop.

"I didn't know when to stop," he told The Project. "I just kept on playing and playing and playing, and eventually lost a sizeable chunk of my available funds.

"Then I went back to the casino and carried on the next morning, and lost a whole lot more money."

Soon his drive to gamble hijacked his brain, effectively taking him prisoner.

"I'm playing this machine, there's all these clacking sounds and music starts playing and the symbols on the reel start turning around. I was chasing the euphoria of it, the excitement."

When he was promoted at work and began being paid monthly in advance, things took a turn for the worse until Mr Demchy had to face reality.

"My first payday as a supervisor, off to the casino and I lost a whole lot. It was that moment when I thought, 'Crikey, I've got a problem.'"

Doing his best to walk away from gambling, the addiction still chased him. He tried getting himself barred from the casino, but soon discovered a pokie machine around the corner.

"Whatever available funds I could get my hands on were disappearing into the pokie machines. Your rational thinking just bypasses that."

In all he gambled away a staggering six figures - about five years' worth of wages. Now that he's been clean for almost a decade, he says talking is the key to recovery.

"When I told all my friends I didn't get laughed at. People were concerned. They said, 'Oh gosh, we had no idea.' So tell people. Share your story, just confess and open up to it."

If you're struggling with gambling, call the Gambling Helpline on 0800 654 655 or text 1737 at any time for support.

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