A young gambling addict who blew hundreds of thousands of dollars on the pokies and tried to kill himself after a binge has opened up on his long-term struggle in a bid to stop others repeating his mistakes.
Ben Hamilton has struggled with gambling addiction for more than a decade and can't even buy a raffle ticket without worrying that he'll wind up in front of a poker machine.
The 29-year-old says he hit rock bottom in late 2018 when he went on a gambling spree after finishing work.
The father-of-one pocketed thousands as he drove himself from venue-to-venue while heavily intoxicated in his home town of East Ballina in northern New South Wales.
His family knew he had a problem with poker machines, including his wife Jasmine, who had been trying to encourage him to seek help for years.
By 8pm that night, he felt so guilty over his gambling habits he decided to end his life.
Ben Hamilton (pictured with his wife Jasmine) has struggled with gambling addiction for more than a decade and can't even buy a raffle ticket without worrying that he'll wind up in front of a poker machine
'The realisation hit me about what I’d done and, yeah, I’ve had enough – I just drove my car off the road, down an embankment,' he told 9 News.
While he suffered very minor injuries, he lost his driver's licence and was forced to pay more than $20,000 for van repairs and to cover legal fees.
'I decided enough was enough - I had to make a change.'
Mr Hamilton told the network he doesn't know how much he spent gambling over the last decade, but said it would be 'enough to buy the house' he was sitting in.
He created Kickin' The Punt with his wife to help people affected by gambling and eradicate poker machines.
Despite trying to curb his addiction throughout the years, with poker machines switched off during COVID-19 lockdowns, Mr Hamilton said: 'It's the first time I've felt safe in my whole life.'
While he admitted he has a weakness for all forms of gambling, poker machines have been his major downfall.
'I knew I had a problem but every three or six months I would have these hectic episodes,' he said.
'I became evasive, secretive.'
While he suffered very minor injuries, he lost his driver's licence and was forced to pay more than $20,000 for van repairs and to cover legal fees
He explained gambling addicts don't care about their winnings - they only care about the time spent in front of the machine.
'When I decided to take my life, it was after a big win. I had three or four thousand dollars on me,' he said.
In a revealing Instagram post, Mrs Hamilton said she considered leaving him if he didn't get his addiction under control.
'It took one full year for me to see the struggle Ben battled every pay day. His pay came in, he was a king for three days and then broke for the other 11,' she wrote.
'I believed the excuses, I believed the colourful stories, I believed the lies. Because I loved him, and I didn’t want to think he had a problem.'
It wasn't until she realised she would sit alone on nights out, bored by the poker machines, that her partner needed help.
In a revealing Instagram post, Mrs Hamilton said she considered leaving him if he didn't get his addiction under control
'I would sit on the outskirts and watch the mayhem of $10 go in, then $20, then $50 then I lost count of how much went into a machine.'
Mrs Hamilton got so angry one night she almost broke her hand punching a poker machine after watching her husband put 'all our money' into the slots.
'I slapped Ben across the back of his head one night because he was spending our money and he just couldn’t stop,' she said.
'He didn’t even flinch, I threw brochures that were placed in the pokies room that said in big writing "GAMBLING PROBLEM". I threw them on his lap, at his head, at poker machines. I was acting insane.'
Mr Hamilton said his son is one of his main motivators in setting up Kickin' The Punt
In an interview with ABC radio, an emotional Mr Hamilton said his goal is to create a rehabilitation program solely for gambling addicts
She said she realised she had to decide whether to leave him, or help him fight his addiction.
In an interview with ABC radio, an emotional Mr Hamilton said his goal is to create a rehabilitation program solely for gambling addicts.
'I've got a son who's nearly three now and knowing that he won't be affected by it is something that gives me a lot of strength,' he said.
'I'm ensuring that the buck stops with me and he won't have that exposure at all to gambling.'
It is estimated punters have saved around $2billion since the machines were unplugged in March.
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention or gambling addiction can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Gambers Anonymous.