‘Shame and regret’: $500k loss for wife

The NSW mother of six is ​​sounding the alarm about the “danger” of a product causing “harm” to millions of Aussies. Warning: distressing content

Kate Seselja wished she could have stopped the “horrific cycle” of losing $500,000 to an industry that she says “preys on the vulnerable” and causes extreme “damage.”

The mother of six started playing slots at the age of 18 and quickly became addicted. She wishes she could turn back time and never enter that slot.

But it started an experience that lasted 15 years on and off and even saw her pour out a $30,000 loan in one month that she and her husband would use to build a house.

She put money into the slots at every opportunity – if the kids could watch out, she’d play the slots, Ms Seselja reveals on SBSInsight program this Tuesday.

The now 43-year-old said the most money she lost in one sitting was $12,000 and the longest session she ever spent on the slots was eight straight hours.

“I was not aware that slots were initially addictive and enticing. I had no knowledge or education about harmful gambling and unfortunately the thing for most Australians today is that they don’t understand the danger of the product because they are so readily available,” she told news.com.au.

“Once I started playing them, I was mentally hijacked so quickly, spending way more money and time than I intended to, and didn’t really understand why it was happening.”

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The Yass mom said she quickly became addicted when she was 18 – putting all the money she had available into the slots – but justified it because she was young at the time and it was just “throwaway income”.

When she ran out of money, she would borrow from her parents and siblings and promise to pay them back the next payday, all the while the lights and sounds of the machines kept drawing her in.

“Your brain is trying to understand that machine. We humans mean creating creatures, we want to predict patterns, but there’s nothing predictable about the machines,” she said.

The struggle to quit

But then Ms. Seselja gave up gambling, moved to Canberra and got married, thinking she had left the addiction behind.

Instead, it came roaring back in a sinister way.

“When gambling came back into my life in my early twenties, I was in a mom group at a club and I heard the lights and noises and we were having a stressful financial time at that point,” she explained.

“I thought you could remember the time you won you could do that again and that was the start of the next 10 years of just cycling back and forth only to be completely consumed by either chasing losses or trying to run from the shame I felt. †

The slots were “hypnotic” and her addiction was fueled every time they would refinance their mortgage, because banks would give them a credit card and she would spend the money on the slots – usually $4000 at a time.

She said the banks continued to issue credit cards to them, knowing she was withdrawing money from a gambling club, with a limit steadily increasing to a staggering $50,000 — after it increased by $5,000 every six months.

“The last home loan we got was an $850,000 line of credit, which was like an $850,000 credit card,” she added.

While her husband knew they were in a “certain level of financial” distress, he didn’t know the full extent until she confessed to losing their $30,000 loan.

She said he was “overwhelmed” as they ran a business, built a house, and had a child with another along the way.

“We were 23 or 24 and it was a lot and he didn’t know how else to do it,” she said.

“He tried to take my card and restrict my access to finances, but that was not a long-term solution. He was working and needed me to manage the household and household finances so it was a lot for us to navigate.

‘Large predators’

Ms. Seselja said she tried several times to stop gambling, but the financial pressures they faced created a vicious circle in which playing slots was a motivator to try and get them out of their money crunch.

“I didn’t understand the global landscape and that Australian communities are vulnerable by default because we have massive access to gambling products and we’re being marketed so heavily and aggressively on a number of fronts,” she said.

“Debt is a very real outcome for the entire gambling damage ecosystem in our Australian culture. There are a number of large predators that play in the landscape, including banks, credit card companies and loan sharks, preying on the fragility of the financial pressures that come from gambling damage.

“Then this ecosystem can persist and we will be abandoned and not well protected by a poor regularity landscape.

“We as a country experience the highest level of gambling losses in the entire world, so it is fair to say that we have been let down by our regulatory environment which makes it clear that the interests and profits of institutions must be protected over the protection of consumers.”

‘Completely misunderstood’

Ms Seselja said she felt she was the problem when the slots are designed to lure people in and make them fail.

That’s why she’s made her story public, because she knows that people are so “desperate” to find out what’s wrong with them when they’re not the problem.

“I was going to go to the club and I just wanted to put in $100 and would end up spending all my money that I had access to,” she said.

“But I did everything the machine was designed for, it was designed to make the user die out.”

At some point in 2012, Ms. Seselja reached a breaking point and came close to committing suicide while pregnant, after a day of losing on the slots.

“I just couldn’t handle the feeling of the stress and the weight of the losses and I felt like everyone would be better off without me, but I didn’t want to leave my babies behind,” she said.

“I was pregnant with our sixth child and I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I had tried to get help and it hadn’t worked. I felt alone, I felt deeply misunderstood and I just wanted to go back to never gambling again.”

Aussies need protection from a ‘toxic’ environment

But her husband saw how much pain she was in and begged her to try a new counselor, who focused on her and not how much money she’d lost, she said.

A Mission Australia financial adviser also helped change Ms. Seselja’s life and settle the $80,000 in credit card debt she had accumulated.

The $50,000 cap had wiped out the debt completely, while the others negotiated a lower settlement.

“When I went to the financial advisor, he helped me understand that it had been an irresponsible lending practice to take advantage of me,” she said.

“That the bank knew I was someone who got gambling damage, they would be able to see that I am withdrawing money from clubs on my bank statements and there is apparently a code indicating that financial institutions are gambling and they knowingly increased our card without checking if we could pay back.”

‘Power to destroy lives’

The family’s debts were paid off in full six years ago, but now that she knows she’s spent a total of half a million dollars through the slots, she feels “nausea in her stomach,” she added.

Now Ms Seslja hasn’t played slots in 10 years but she wants other Australians to be protected from the “toxic” environment of gambling.

“People want to go to social spaces, but then there are slots and playing a machine seems benign, but it has the power to absolutely destroy lives. Over 400 people a year take their lives because of gambling damage in Australia and we don’t hear about it enough about because people feel it’s their shame or the family feel they should keep it quiet,” she said.

“But the shame is on the industry, government and banking environment that has completely facilitated the financial destruction of millions of Australians for the sake of profit.”

Ms Seslja works as a recovery coach to help gamblers and an advocate and has helped thousands of Australians deal with the fallout by connecting them with local services.

“There is invisible damage that happens on a daily basis, but we don’t see it until it’s too late,” she said.

“I consider myself really lucky that I survived. There are plenty of families I have met that have lost loved ones and it just breaks my heart.”

The Insight Episode on Dealing with Debt: How Do People Get Into Debt and How Do They Get Out? will be broadcast on SBS on Tuesday at 8.30 pm.

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