The Worst of Times: I sold my Mercedes for pounds 50,000 and lost it at the casino: Jennifer talks to Danny Danziger

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I got involved with gambling when I was 10 or 12, playing cards and backgammon with my brothers, throwing stones to see who could throw farthest, and betting money on the results.

My first job when I moved to London was working in a hotel, and I started to play the fruit machines in the hotel lobby. They only took 50p or pounds 1 coins, and that seemed harmless for a while. But it soon turned into an obsession: if someone came in when I was busy and won the jackpot, I'd want to kill that person: it was my turn to win. Even on days off, I used to go to the hotel just to play the machines.

Eventually I started losing a lot of money, and began borrowing from the petty cash, and pretty soon my wages were not paying my debt to the cash. That's when my boss started to notice, and within a couple of months I was sacked.

Just at that time, a cousin of mine, who was a binge gambler, introduced me to casinos. The first time she gave me one or two pounds 10 chips. I watched how people placed them on numbers at the roulette table; then I put them on one number, and the number came up] Number 34 - it became my lucky/unlucky number.

That was the start of my casino gambling. To begin with I was winning more than I was losing, perhaps because I had more control over my emotions and my timing. But the more a person gets involved, the less control they have in calling the shots. You can no longer say, 'I'm going home at midnight, win or lose,' or, 'I'll only spend X amount.'

Within a couple of years, I was staying in casinos longer and longer, sometimes not leaving until daylight, and I was a member of nearly a dozen casinos. My life was going to casinos. I fell in love with cards. Nothing ever gave me the high that gambling did, that excitement of taking the right card and winning, and the dealer losing.

But if the highs were high, the lows were very low. When you lose and have no money left to play . . . well, I felt like killing. It was as bad as that - an intense feeling of anger, hate and frustration, for everybody, including myself.

I used to hate some of the dealers, I wanted them dead. If someone had handed me a knife, I would probably have stabbed them. There was this one dealer I hated most of all. I lost to him all the time and he seemed to take satisfaction in my losing - yet I would somehow seek him out and play with him.

Then, when I had practically no money left, I met a man at one of the casinos, an older man, a very rich Arab. I've always been lucky with men, and it was good luck that I met this guy, otherwise I would probably have gone from man to man, as a lot of women do in that world when they don't have an income. They start selling themselves for gambling . . .

Every night I could see women doing it. They would sit next to a man, and he would ask: 'How's your luck? Are you lucky for me tonight?' And if the lady played along with this game, the man would give them money to gamble. I was tempted, but thank God it didn't happen.

Going with this guy, which I did for four or five years, in a way was the same thing. But I cannot say I didn't love him - it's difficult not to love someone when they come at the right time and they help you, they give you money, and buy you a nice car. He did a lot for me. And I was dependent upon him for gambling, because I was soon playing quite big sums, pounds 5,000 to pounds 10,000 a night.

In the end my Arab friend became very possessive, and wanted to marry me, and take me back to Bahrain with him. But I wanted to stay in London, so we split up.

He had bought me loads of jewellery, which I started to pawn, because I soon had bills to pay, and I sold the car he had given me, a Mercedes estate, and I got pounds 50,000 for it. I had a lot of hope riding on that money. I thought, this money will be like capital, and I'm going to invest it in gambling, and I'm going to win loads of money, I'm going to buy another car, and pay the bank the money I borrowed, and then I'm going to have a normal life.

I decided to play punto banco at the Park Tower, and I lost the money in two nights.

That is the nature of gambling. When you don't need the money, you win, but when you need the money, it is just impossible to get. There's something demonic about gambling, it is like an evil spirit. It knows what you are up to, it's a part of your brain, a part of your mind, and it always turns against you.

I remember going home feeling more despair than I'd ever known, crushed by panic attacks, knowing that I'd lost everything, and my flat was going to be repossessed. I wanted to die.

I phoned Gamblers Anonymous. Most gamblers come to GA because they have run out of money, and that is what I did, and this person on the end of the line said, 'I understand the feeling, we've all been there, don't worry . . .'

The very next day I went to Gamblers Anonymous, and continued the meetings two or three times a week.

I had one lapse. I found ways to borrow some more money - all gamblers have an incredible ability to find ways of getting money. And before I knew it, I'd lost that money, too. But this time as I came home from the casino, I was happy: you see, when a person hits rock bottom, and they can go no further down, then they can come up and be free - there was a sense of not wanting to suffer any more.

It's been three years and 10 months. I attend GA regularly. I don't gamble at all, not even flipping a coin for a cup of coffee, I avoid any trigger. I've also stopped playing backgammon, which I loved. I take it one day at a time, but I know that I will never go near gambling again.

If you are a compulsive gambler, that's all you can be, and that means a loser. But if you don't gamble, you can be anybody you want to be in life, and do anything you want to do: you can be like me now, full of hopes and dreams and energy. I feel I have been reborn.

Gamblers Anonymous, PO Box 88, London SW6 3DU, runs a 24-hour phone line, 071-384 3040.

Jennifer has withheld her surname, according to GA's rule that people in its programme remain anonymous.

(Photograph omitted)

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