Sportsman's gambling 'destroyed everybody'

By Steve Deane

Photo / Brett Phibbs
Photo / Brett Phibbs

Convicted white-collar criminals serve their sentences at cushy prison farms, right?

Not David. A former international sportsman who won multiple world championships for New Zealand, David stole nearly half a million dollars from his employer to fund his gambling addiction. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

"The first place you go is The Rock - Mt Eden," says David.

A chance conversation with a prison guard on a golf course convinced him to meet prison head on, so he ignored his lawyer's advice to request isolation and instead did his time in general population.

"Of course it is scary," he says. "But like anything you have got to make the most of it. You can either get in there amongst it and learn from the experience or cower away. If you cower away it is like sharks smell blood.

"Once you get inside you realise segregation is not the place to be, because of the stigma that is associated with it."

David's descent from admired world champion to disgraced prisoner was well publicised. Despite the false name used for this story, he accepts that many people will know his real identity. He's happy to tell his story, but he's been out of prison for more than two and half years without being able to find a job, and he doesn't want to jeopardise future prospects by having his real name printed.

"In some ways I was thankful I spent time in there," he says of prison. "I was able to clear my head about some things I thought were right that were obviously wrong."

Gambling - betting on sports, horses and dogs at the TAB - laid waste to David's life. He'd been around gambling his whole life but it wasn't that exposure that created his problem.

"I was successful at work. I was successful in my sporting career. I had a beautiful wife, beautiful kids and a lovely house. And all I wanted to do was lose control and destroy it all.

"I know now that is a warped way of thinking but that's what I was going through."

At gambling anonymous meetings, others would talk about the thrill of winning. David got his buzz from losing. "Winning was numb. My problem was about trying to self-inflict.

"Gambling was escapism and a way to hurt myself, but in the end it hurt more than just me. It destroyed everybody."

Gambling began to wreck his life long before David's criminality was discovered.

"It destroyed my marriage. My wife wasn't aware of my criminal activities but I was escaping to gambling. We were getting further and further apart.

"I wasn't spending time with the kids. I was getting into a rut and they weren't able to help me. I was being stubborn and saying I was fine and in control of everything and really I was getting myself further and further in the quagmire."

Prison and five years of counselling taught David a lot about himself. He's changed the way he thinks about a lot of things, but at his core he is still an elite athlete. He's often struck by the "in your face" relationship between sports coverage and the TAB, and acknowledges the moral issue with using gambling money to fund sports. But he is still a pragmatist.

"Any sponsorship dollar is a good dollar," he says. "If they are going to pay for me to do it, great. It just seems that everything that can give you the sponsorship dollars has those type of addictive components - tobacco, alcohol or gambling.

"I don't know the answer. All I know is that as an elite sportsperson, anyone who is paying my tab is a good person. It doesn't make it right, it's just reality."

David may be out of prison but his sentence is far from served. When he does find work again, he'll have to pay back the money he stole. He lives with his mother and brother, and has a good relationship with his kids and ex-wife.

"But there is still a lot of pain and there still will be. It is not going to go away, but we are all in a better place now."

- NZ Herald

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