Bray Ash had a good family, a good life, and a good future. When online gambling took over his mind, he could have lost it all. Fortunately, he got help, but not before a small fortune ― even his student loan money ― was lost to him through betting.
During childhood visits to seaside resorts in his native England, Bray Ash looked forward to playing the slot machines offered there for kids. In primary school, he recalls playing blackjack in class and casino games on his Gameboy. In his early teens, he was going to football and soccer matches and betting on those.
Bray didn’t wait until the legal age of 18 to gamble at the betting shops (common in England) near his home. A friend helped him get a fake ID so he could go drinking. “Then we walked past the betting shop,” says Bray, “and he said, ‘Let’s see if our ID is working there,’ and I went in and I put a pound on a horse.
“When I was 18, I opened my first online account and started going to casinos and going to the betting shop during school hours or after school with friends,” he says. Once Ash got to the university, he was feeling lost with all the free time on his hands outside of classes. That time was soon consumed by online sports betting. He was betting on horse and dog racing, American football, basketball, and more.
Ash had been active in playing sports in the boarding school he had attended before going to the university.
“I played a lot of football, though I didn’t quite make it to professional,” says Ash.
“I was quite knowledgeable about certain sports,” he says, and he figured that would give him an advantage when betting. “Sensible people,” he says, “will stop after a nice win, but as for me, that wasn’t possible. I just kept going and going and going.”
Online betting became his obsession. Alone. In his room.
“Pretty much nonstop I would say. If I wasn’t betting at that second, I would have a bet on, so I’d probably be watching the match or checking the score. I don’t think there was much break from it. it was pretty much 24/7 that it was on my mind.”
Where did the money come from for all this gambling? Ash’s parents were paying for his general living expenses, and he also worked at odd jobs at times. He relied on student loans for his tuition, money that was sent to him three times a year. One January he quickly spent the entire loan amount on gambling. “I got the money on the 4th of January for the term after Christmas, and by the beginning of the 6th of January it was all gone,” says Ash.
“I just gambled it all online and then obviously had no money when I went back to school, so my parents had to give me money.”
Fully absorbed in gambling, Ash had little time for fun and friendships – even for his own self-care.
“My routine was terrible,” he says. “I didn’t have structure, so I wasn’t eating the right meals or eating enough. I wasn’t physically being active playing sports like I loved doing – and obviously missing out on the social side that comes with that.”
Isolation to avoid lying
When there were social gatherings of his family and friends, Ash didn’t want to go.
“People would say, ‘How are things going?’ and I couldn’t stand there and lie to those people anymore and pretend that my life was all going well. Their sons were doing well and got good jobs, and then I’d just lost another job because of my gambling. So, it turned me into someone who wanted to just hide away and isolate because I didn’t want people to know the truth.”
Ash had entered the university with all the advantages a young man could want. He had been able to attend a prestigious school that was hard to get into, and he liked it a lot.
“I’d gone from that to someone who wasn’t even going out of his room at university,” he says. “I was just feeling very low and depressed, and I was getting anxious about stuff. I felt like my life was on a massive downward trajectory. I thought I was going to end up in prison, to be honest.”
At the same time, Ash reports thinking to himself that ‘I didn’t want to never own a house or not be able to go on nice holidays or have a nice car.’”
“I said to myself, ‘Hey, do you want that future for yourself, or do you want to carry on with what you’re doing?’
“That was the big turning point.”
Ash also recognized that he had wasted a lot of good opportunities while holed away in his room gambling. “I never did an internship,” he says. “I never did any placements. I never really made good contacts. I didn’t make the most of the resources the university had to give me.”
Ash had previously tried getting some help from a gambling day treatment program, but he now saw that more drastic action was needed. He entered a 14-week residential program in February of 2018.
Living the life he wants
“When you’re gambling, you don’t plan for the future because you don’t really think you have a future.”“Looking back to the period of when I was about 17 to 25, the 14 weeks I spent there was probably the happiest time,” says Ash, “because I wasn’t gambling, and I was kind of living the life that I want. I had more energy. I was eating properly.
“When I was growing up as a teenager and started gambling so early on, I didn’t really develop a routine structure. Now I had a true structure that I never had before, and I valued money for the first time.”
After going through treatment, Ash continued meeting with other gambling addicts to get support for his recovery. He also became a peer aid, offering support to others in recovery.
Ash likes the way he feels now.
“I’ve been able to like play sports again and I’ve got energy,” he says. “Before I went into rehab, one of my friends wanted to meet up with me for a walk around Hyde Park and I said I didn’t even have the energy to walk round Hyde Park. Now I’ve got a full football match today and I’ve got a full match tomorrow. That gives me structure – routine, and I’m happier now. I’ve got focus.
“When you’re gambling, you don’t plan for the future because you don’t really think you have a future,” says Ash. “You kind of live day by day – getting the money for the day.”
Now Ash no longer runs out of money.
“I’ve got savings,” he says. “I’m planning ahead every month. I just feel like I’m kind of a normal human being. I do what normal humans do you know. I was in New York last week and on holiday. That’s something that I would never been able to do before, but now I’ve got money to do that.
“I feel like I’m in control as well. I never had control before. My life was dictated around gambling.”
Is it worth it?
Ash wants others with gambling addiction to have that same kind of freedom to live a normal life. He readily talks to others about his addiction and all that he has learned from it.
He offers these questions for those who wonder if they’re spending too much time and money on gambling: “Is it worth you sitting there having a bet on a match and you’re watching it and you’re anxious and you’re up and down? Is it worth putting yourself through that stress and anxiety to make no money at all?
“I think the answer to that is no,” he says. “No one would do that to themselves if they knew that there was going to be nothing there.”
In the meantime, he continues to connect with other recovering addicts to keep himself on a healthy track. “I feel like just having those chats with people is a kind of release and kind of reminder as well,” says Ash. It helps keep him feeling normal and free.
Pat Samples is a Twin Cities writer, writing coach, and champion of creative aging. Her website is patsamples.com.
Last Updated on March 14, 2022