AFL Footballer Brent Guerra’s Gambling Hell

Posted: June 24, 2015 by Beaner in Gambling addiction
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In line with previous posts, this story today reinforces what David Schwartz warned the AFL recently.  I think it is great that Guerra can be so open about his past problems, as there are many out there struggling with gambling addiction and to have a high profile ex-AFL player tell their story may encourage others to seek help if they feel their gambling is getting out of control.

Beaner

Hawthorn flag star was on top of the world… and in the grip of a vicious punting addiction

  • MARK ROBINSON
  • Herald Sun
  • June 23, 2015 9:00PM

IT’S Saturday, July 6, 2009, and Brent Guerra is spending the afternoon in a TAB on the Nepean Hwy.

He put on a Big 6, trying to land the big one, and got more excited with each race as winner after winner saluted. He didn’t drink, he didn’t really talk to any others punters. He just sat there and watched and waited. Race 3 became Race 4 and then finally, it’s Race 8. Guerra’s $50 has become $30,000.

He hadn’t felt like this before. Fifty bucks into 30k in less than four hours. He wondered, foolishly, did he have the knack of picking winners? Ticket in hand, he jumped in the car and drove straight to the MCG, where Hawthorn played Collingwood. The Hawks won and Guerra got a Brownlow Medal vote. The the next day he exchanged his ticket for $29,950 in cash.

It was the best weekend of his life and Guerra’s punting nightmare had begun.

“I ended up winning $30,000 and from that point I ended up giving every cent back, plus a hell of a lot more,” he said.

“I wasn’t a big punter, but that $50 turned into $100 and turned into $1000, and turned into $1500 on horses.”

He would be smart that first day. He kept $10,000 and paid $20,000 off his home loan. But soon enough, he had burned the $10,000 on the punt and began a horrible cycle of withdrawing from the home loan. He took back $20,000 and lost it. And then it was 50K. It didn’t stop.

A journeyman footballer at his third club, Guerra was on a contract worth about $200,000 at the Hawks.

It wasn’t a lot in relative terms, but it fed his addiction. And he was rapt to get a premiership bonus in 2013 because it meant he had more money to punt.

At the Hawks, he was paid on the 15th of every month and often his wage would be gone by the 17th.

He was a in cycle of winning and chasing. Win big. Lose more. Go again. On one end-of-season trip to Las Vegas, Guerra lost $20,000. At the end, he estimated he had lost $400,000 in four years.

His punting problems began when he arrived at Hawthorn for the 2006 season from St Kilda (his first club was Port Adelaide).

“When I got to Hawthorn it had a betting culture,” he said.

“There were a lot of guys in horses who didn’t mind having a bet. It became a thing where it was once a month, once a fortnight, to once a week to, in the end, I was punting every day.

“It was mainly horses, the greyhounds, the trots. If I could bet if it was going to rain the next day I would. It got to a point where I would drop three or four thousand on a weekend.

“I knew I had a problem and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was embarrassed to speak to my family, my girlfriend and now my wife Rachel, and my best mates.”

He recalls vividly, heart-breakingly, his life of deceit and lies, of self-loathing and anger.

Throughout, his best friends were the TABs and Channel 519 on Foxtel, Sky Racing. He would visit the TABs alone. Often he would be recognised so he concocted a plan to spread himself around.

“I could probably name every TAB from here in Richmond to Cheltenham,” he said.

“That’s the sad thing. If I had a spare half an hour to kill, that’s where I would kill it, in a TAB or a pub or even on my phone in the car waiting.”

Rachel was living with him while he was a gambling addict, but she never knew. Rachel is a midwife, working different shifts, so Guerra lived his secret world around her working hours.

“If she worked in the afternoon, it would be from 2pm to 9pm and I’d get home from training at 3pm or 4pm and I’d sit there punting until she walked in the door.”

Just before Rachel got home, he’d switch channels and turn off the TV, so when Rachel turned it on, it would be on the movie channel or a gardening channel.

“It’s sad. You don’t get out and about. You sit in your house and all you think about is winning money and before you know it, you’ve dropped three or four thousand dollars.”

He tried to stop himself by changing the PIN number to access Sky Channel. He’d cover his eyes and push any four numbers so he couldn’t log back in.

But the need to bet was greater than his conviction and he would ring Foxtel asking them to reset his PIN number. At these times, he would argue with himself.

“I’d always talk to myself, it’s amazing how much you talk to yourself as a gambler.”

He also put a restriction on how much he could withdraw from the bank — $1000. That didn’t work, either.

“I can remember nights at the casino — I also bet at the casino — and I’d be sitting there at the ATM at 11.50pm waiting for 12 midnight to arrive, so I could get another $1000 out.

“There was one month I probably lost $30,000. Every day was $1000 a day.”

He would bet on anything: Cards, roulette, horses, dogs, trots, rugby league, soccer and even badminton.

“I may have lost $2000 that day and I wanted a quick fix, so I’d bet on the next sport available and it was badminton … I couldn’t even tell you who was playing.”

Often, he’d be up until 2am in front of Sky Channel at home.

“I’d watch the races, betting on South African races, European races, Swedish trots, Perth races normally finish about midnight, Mandurah greyhounds … I was on all of them.’’

It was a hideous life. He would even bet when his was car was stopped at red lights.

Credit betting enticed and tormented Guerra. At times he had half a dozen accounts with online bookmakers and owed the lot of them.

“I would lie in bed and have the sweats,” he said. “I’d have accounts open with bookies and you owed them $5000 or $10,000 or $20,000, or whatever it was.

“More often than not the night before the game I was so exhausted because I hadn’t slept during the week. I’d normally get a good night sleep because I knew the next day I got to play footy.

“It was the one time, other than drinking three bottles of red, and that’s what I did sometimes to forget about it … football was the release. It was only time I didn’t think about having a bet.”

The punting eventually took hold in the bedroom. After Rachel would fall asleep, Guerra would get on his iPhone.

“I’d have my phone laying on the floor and I’d be halfway hanging out of the bed betting, trying to hide it, the phone on silent,.

“She never knew. There’d be times I would be sitting on the couch, I’d get a tip, and I’d say: ‘I’m going to the toilet or going out the front to do the gardening’, and I’d listen to a race or watch it.’’

Gamblers are liars. They look you in the eye and lie through their teeth.

Guerra was lying to Rachel and to his parents. Because he’d be broke, he would ask them for money. He’d tell them his money had gone off the home loan and he’d use their money to punt. Lies and losses dictated his life.

Guerra spiralled into depression.

“I had some demons in my head, to be thinking some of things I was thinking. You feel worthless,” he said.

Thoughts of self-harm?

“Yeah, I thought about it. It’s making me cry thinking about it. I actually thought: `What is the easiest way to do it?’ I was never going to, but I thought: ‘I wish I was dead, it would be easier.’

“I don’t want others to have those same thoughts. This is not just for AFL footballers, this is everyone.

“There will be people thinking about it right now. They’ve probably done their dough just today.

Brent Guerra says he has not gambled since January as he continues his recovery

“So, by me telling my story, if I can help anyone not have those thoughts in their head, then that is a positive. Just speak to someone. I found it easier telling someone first, then telling my family. They will support you.

“I may help one or two people. I may help many people.’’

Guerra eventually helped himself.

“I was lying in bed and I was crying,’’ he said. “Rach was asleep, she didn’t wake up. I was crying, thinking about what I had done. The stress I had put my body under, the pain I must have caused other people. So, the very next day I called Paul Connors, my manager. I couldn’t keep it going. I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing to myself, my family, the people who are very close to me. To look back now, it’s hard to know that’s what I was doing.”

After retiring in 2013, Guerra stayed at the Hawks as a part-time development coach.

He spoke to Connors at the end of 2013 and to the Hawks in early 2014, who put him in contact with Jan Beames, the woman who helped David Schwarz stop his gambling.

That was the professional help, his first step. His second step was to tell Rachel, his mum and dad and his best friends, Luke Livingstone and Luke Hodge.

How was Rachel? “Upset. She was very disappointed with herself she didn’t pick it up earlier.”

And Hodgey? “I found it hard because I was so embarrassed. You hear about people being problem gamblers, but you never think you’re one yourself until you need to face the facts. Telling your best mates is one of the hardest and then worse was telling your family.”

He credits Rachel and son Jack, who was born in March, for providing the strength to fight on. “I would’ve gone back to punting and lying,” he said. “I owe everything to Rachel, to all of them, for the support they gave me.”

Guerra weaned himself off gambling and has not had a bet, he says, since January. Rachel is in charge of the finances and she allows him $250 a week to live.

Now playing coach at Chelsea in the Mornington Peninsula League, Guerra will soon join the AFL’s overhauled responsible gambling program, which will be headed by Schwarz.

He wants to help footballers — some of whom he knows to have problems — and the TAC Cup kids.

“I want to help people, I see it as a problem across the whole of the AFL,” Guerra said.

“I’ve got no one to blame but myself and I’m not looking for sympathy. I just want to tell people there are dark days, very dark days, and make them think twice about having a bet.’’

For anyone requiring help, contact Gambler’s Helpline on 1800 858 858 or LIFELINE ON 13 11 14

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