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A gambling addict who blew £500,000 and even spent her wedding night losing money describes a massive jackpot win as "the worst night of my life" and the trigger for a decades-long habit.
Lisa Walker, from Essex, said gambling addiction led to bankruptcy, homelessness and self-destruction.
The 48-year-old is a Peer Aid support worker, and was first introduced to gambling when her dad and granddad played cards together.
A big win in February 2001 became the start of a nightmare that would last two decades.
Aged 29 at the time, Lisa won a jackpot of £127,000 at Rendezvous casino and she describes it as the "worst day of my life".
"My heart was pumping in my chest and all I could think about was how in a couple of minutes every single person in this casino was going to know that I had won that jackpot," she said.
"As the dealer slowly unveiled players’ cards, he got to mine and slowly revealed the royal flush.
“It was the worst day of my life.
"What should have been the best day of my life led to a journey of despair, hopelessness, and having an awful, awful gambling addiction.”
Lisa became mesmerised by the atmosphere in casinos and her new winnings enabled her to gamble much more frequently, typically four to five times a week.
She said: “I became reckless with money. On nights where I would usually only take £50 to a casino, I took £100, £200 or £500.
"With that came greater hours spent gambling, which I reckon was in the region of around 8-10 hours each day.
"Whether that was in the casinos, the dog tracks, betting shops, anywhere.
"I truly loved it. I loved the buzz it used to give me, but naturally with them came the crushing lows.
"That’s what it means to be a compulsive gambler, being truly unable to stop.
“Even if I had won £1 million that night, it wouldn’t have mattered because one way or another, every single pound would have gone back to gambling.
Lisa estimates that she has lost up to half a million pounds over the past two decades.
She said: “Throughout the years, given my wins and losses, I would say that I’ve lost over £400,000-£500,000.
"This would be from both losing the large win but also from gambling away the money that I got from re-mortgaging my house, not just once but three times, to continue to have the money to gamble and spent every single penny I had towards gambling.”
The dangerous habit eventually left Lisa in sizeable debt so severe that she was forced to declare bankruptcy and sell off her house to pay it off.
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She had previously sold her home but the sale didn’t cover her debts, leaving her account still in the red.
Gambling also affected the support worker's health, as she struggled to sleep most nights, lying awake wondering where she was going to get more money to gamble with.
She said: “It's extremely difficult to think about it right now, and to think about all the things I could have had, whether that was my own little house, being debt free, being mortgage-free by the age of 30.
"But I didn’t, and instead I chose this life of self-destruction.
"It was hell, well and truly, hell on earth.”
And her relationships suffered too.
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Lisa said: “It also resulted in the breakdown of a marriage and ultimately resulted in my children and I being forced to move into a hostel for a period of time.”
It wasn’t until her wedding night in 2018 to her third – and current – husband, Garry, that Lisa realised she desperately needed help.
She said: “We had decided to have our wedding in Las Vegas and despite 15 of my closest family friends flying over to enjoy the wedding with both me and my husband, I spent the entire night playing the slots till 6am – not leaving for a moment to enjoy their company or to enjoy the celebration.
“It was when we returned from Las Vegas that I finally made the conscious effort to reach out and to get help from a close friend from someone that I knew at Gamblers Anonymous.”
Lisa is one of 50,000 women who have now registered to self-exclude from all online gambling sites through GAMSTOP, a free tool for people living in the UK.
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