Paul Fung lost almost a million dollars in three weeks on gambling. Picture: SBS.Source:Supplied
Gambling Losses. You may deduct gambling losses only if you itemize your deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040) and kept a record of your winnings and losses. The amount of losses you deduct can't be more than the amount of gambling income you reported on your return. Claim your gambling losses up to the amount of winnings, as 'Other Itemized. Unclaimed money is often released to the unclaimed property fund of a state or province. Such money may come from a variety of sources and is held as a public service. Funds may sit for years before persons claim them, often because the money's existence is unknown. Money finders are professionals who help people find and collect these funds. Unclaimed assets include, but are not limited to: savings or checking accounts, uncashed checks, matured certificates of deposit, stocks, bonds or mutual funds, travelers' checks or money orders, and proceeds from life insurance policies.
PROBLEM gambling is often spoken about in hushed tones in the shadows, if at all. The stigma attached to it is so strong that there are those who still see problem gamblers as “weak” or using it as a “cop out”.
But problem gambling is like any other addiction such as alcohol or drugs with sufferers displaying characteristics including tolerance, withdrawal and difficulty controlling urges, according to the American psychology bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV.
For Victorian Paul Fung, problem gambling is what tore his life apart.
Mr Fung had been gambling for more than two decades, betting on everything from horses to footy matches to casino games, before the catastrophic three-week period when he lost almost a million dollars. Anything he could win on, he bet on.
It all started innocently enough. Mr Fung was eight when he first gambled, betting with 10 cent and 20 cent pieces to spice up Chinese card games and mahjong with family and friends.
He moved on to horses by the age of 14, asking anyone who was willing to place bets for him. By the time Mr Fung was 16, he had acquired a fake ID and could stride into a TAB himself and spent every weekend studying the form guide and perfecting his ‘system’.
Paul Fung was betting on horse races by the time he was 14 years old.Source:Supplied
He didn’t think so at the time, but Mr Fung said gambling started to affect his school work. “I was in denial at the time but when I look back at my grades in the last few years of school, they definitely slipped,” he told news.com.au.
Once he turned 18, he engaged in more forms of gambling including the myriad games on offer at the casino. It was also around this time his parents started to express some concern. But they would still give him money whenever he asked for it, something that continued for many years.
“It was an adrenalin rush when you won, it was such a huge thrill,” he said. “I just wanted to gamble. It didn’t matter what it was, as long as I could put money down and get some back. But when you lose, you justify that bad feeling only lasted a short period of time. You look for the next win, which you convinced yourself will override that losing feeling.”
But as time went on, Mr Fung said the lows got lower while the highs didn’t get higher.
After school, he took on a jockey apprenticeship but continued to bet on horses despite strict rules against it. He said he never used his position to influence the outcome of any races.
Paul Fung said he would bet on anything he could win from.Source:Supplied
Over the next 10 years, gambling consumed his life. He said: “You’d forego almost everything to gamble. Eating, showering and work all came second.” Mr Fung couldn’t keep a romantic relationship going for more than a year. He started to see relationships within the same frame as gambling — the chase and the thrill and then deciding whether to ‘gamble’ any more time on that person.
The nadir came a few years ago. His brother put his mortgage under Mr Fung’s name and all of a sudden he had access to a massive amount of money. Up until that point, the most he’d lost in one spree would be $15,000 in a wild night out at a casino.
Starting off with bets of a few hundred dollars, within three weeks his gambling spiralled out of control to bets of tens of thousands of dollars. He had lost almost a million dollars betting online, drawing from his brother’s mortgage.
“I could transfer the money really easily. It was scary because I knew I was in the hamster wheel and I just kept hoping I could get back what I lost.
“For a few days I hid the loss but then my brother came back from overseas and I had to confess to my family what I had done. They were shattered. They knew I had this issue for so long but I had completely broken their trust with my dishonesty and deceit.”
Online gambling sites on a laptop computer.Source:News Limited
His brother lost his house which had to be sold to pay back the debt. His relationship with his family, especially his brother, is still strained but Mr Fung said he is working to repair it.
Six months after the million dollar incident, Mr Fung was at a close mate’s house talking about his problems when his friend’s father walked into the room.
“It was by chance that I found help. His father asked me to go along with him to a meeting he ran. I was still in a lot of denial but I thought, realistically, what did I have to lose? Nothing in my life was going right at the time.”
Mr Fung said the Gamblers Anonymous meeting had an immediate effect on him and he continued with them and sought out other help from counsellors and support groups.
“At first I was frightened, anxious and scared but after talking to people I felt inspired. Because problem gambling is not something the community talks about openly, you feel alienated and isolated, like you’re the only one with this huge problem.
Up to 170,000 Australians suffer from problem gambling, according to a Productivity CommiSource:HeraldSun
“It’s such a huge stigma. You can’t tell a gambler, they could be a CEO or a plumber. You can’t physically see the signs on a person.”
Mr Fung shared his story last night on SBS’ Insight program, which looked at problem gambling and young people.
Mr Fung now volunteers with a telephone support service where he talks to other gamblers in the Chinese community.
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“I tell them my experiences and it’s been a real help as part of my own recovery. For someone who’s lost a bit of direction, it’s a lot easier to talk to someone who understands and has been through it than a doctor or a family member.”
Asked if there are enough resources for problem gamblers, Mr Fung said the resources are there if you want them but you have to seek them.
As for the proliferation of online gambling platforms, Mr Fung said: “It’s quite infuriating. I find it hard to see and listen to these things. A few years ago, there were not many of them but now it’s total saturation. To me, the word horrendous comes to mind.”
Tom Waterhouse became the poster child for the online betting industry, with the communitSource:News Limited
The issue of betting advertising in sports was the subject of two parliamentary inquiries last year after significant community backlash over live odds and the integration of betting personality Tom Waterhouse into Channel 9’s NRL broadcast. Mr Fung believes there should be more government legislation to protect the community from excessive advertising from betting companies.
A month after embarking on the recovery path, Mr Fung had a relapse. But since then he’s gone cold turkey. But it’s not that easy.
“Of course it pops into your mind every now and then. Blackjack probability chart. Like with any addiction, once an addict, always an addict. It’s how you deal with the day-to-day. Addictions are caused by emotions and if you can’t deal with or cope with those emotions, then the chances of falling back into it are high.”
Today, he’s been ‘clean’ for 643 days.
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A Productivity Commission report in 2009 estimated that there are between 90,000 and 170,000 Australian adults suffering from significant gambling problems and a further 230,000 to 350,000 people at moderate risk for problem gambling.
If you think you may have a gambling problem, visit Gambling Help Online or the federal government’s Problem Gambling website.
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To catch up on this week’s SBS Insight program, click here.