I lost my children's £200,000 inheritance gambling in two years
Phyllis Sofocleous,58 from Golders Green London became addicted to gambling after meeting her ex-husband, after they divorced she thought she had kicked the habit, then a nest egg for her children ending up killing the golden goose…
“Throw me another £200 on black” I told the croupier as I passed him some chips from my ever decreasing pile.
As the ball is spun, I stare at the roulette table praying it lands on the black. As the ball bobbles I begin to think about my two children at home, but as I watch the ball it begins to mesmerize me.
All I care about was the next few seconds, and whether I could make tonight's losses back.
“Red.” Calls out the croupier, as I watch more of my chips return to the casino's fat pockets.
“Damn! I want to cash another £1,000 please?” I say.
“Another bad night for you Miss Sofocleous, I can't remember the last time you had a winning streak.” He said sympathetically.
I nod sagely at him.
He was right. I was a bad gambler and I was losing heavily, thousands a night. But this money wasn't mine it belonged to my two children.
As I flagged down a taxi outside the casino in London's west end, at 4am on a freezing Wednesday morning. I would wonder how my life became so sordid…
My father Panos owned two successful restaurants in North London. As a child I remember having a flash sports cars, posh holidays and expensive clothes one week and then it would all disappear the next week.
It was until I was older that I realised that this was because my father had either won or lost big.
Even the money from the restaurants wasn't enough and by 1974 he had gambled away the lot.
It put a lot of strain on the family and I vowed never to gamble as I had seen the destruction it had caused my family.
I married a man called George, 58 in 1975 and divorced in 1986 to begin with we had a fairly successful marriage and my daughter, Vicky,26 was born during this time.
Then in 1987, I met Savvi – now 55 – through a Greek dancing class and we married in 1991 in London.
He was a handsome and owned property and a very successful car body repair shop, which we ran together. I was happy and deeply in love.
But there was a problem. He was a heavy gambler.
Most evenings he would leave work and head straight to the casino.
I loved him so much and wanted to be by his side at all times. And that meant being at the gambling tables of casinos, in central London.
One evening we were sitting by the roulette table.
“Why don't you have a little bet?” Savvi said.
“You know I don't gamble I only come here to see you” I replied.
“Oh go on I need some lady luck. I have had a dreadful night I'm down over a grand” He said.
“Ok, go on.” I said, against my better judgement, which was also clouded by a glass or two of wine.
I picked up the rest of his chips and placed them on black.
As the ball began to spin, I felt a feeling in my stomach. It was more than excitement; the adrenalin pumping through my veins was like taking a drug.
I didn't really care what the outcome was. I just loved the ride. In that moment I knew that I had inherited my father's addiction.
“Red.” The croupier shouted.
I had lost but it didn't matter. I wanted that feeling again. I wanted that feeling ALL of the time.
From that evening on I became regular gambler at various high end casinos in London's swanky West End.
Sometimes we did win, more often than not we lost.
Between the years of 1995 and 2000 we gambled roughly £100,000 a year
Even when my son, Pany, 19 was born Savvi turned up and fell asleep as he had been at the casino.
We lost our business, most of our properties and our love.
Eventually we divorced in 2000 due to the stress of gambling and losing so much of what we had worked so hard for.
There wasn't much to go around in the separation due to our obscene levels of gambling.
However I was given a plot of land in Cyprus.
By now my children Vicky and Pany where now adults and I vowed to keep this land and use it for their inheritance.
In 2006 I had the land valued at £250,000 and was advised by the estate agent that he thought this was the top of the market.
It was a great nest egg for my kids, especially considering all the money I had lost over the years.
I sold the land and bought both my children a car each and said they could have the rest in the future.
I was working as a PA in central London and was living with my elderly mother Rita,86 as she was unwell.
I found myself with a salary, paying no rent and with quarter of a million quid burning a hole in my pocket. It was a perfect storm.
It didn't help that I had to walk past a casino every night on the way back to the tube station.
One evening after a stressful day, I walked past the casino. As usual I heard the same voices in my mind
“Go in, just have a quick flutter, it will be ok.” I always fought them off, but not today.
As if in remote control I found myself walking into the casino floor.
I knew what I was doing was wrong but it felt good. The buzz was back as I headed to the roulette table, with a hundred pound worth of chips in my hand.
“That is all I am going to spend, then I'll go” I promised myself.
But it is never the only money you will spend, and you never “just” leave whether you win or lose. I knew I was addicted to gambling and I was hooked again.
Over the following two years I went to the casino every night, on my lunch breaks, even occasionally in the morning.
I did win sometimes, but if I won £30,000 in a year, I had really lost £100,000. Gamblers never talk about their losses.
When I was in the casino I would chase my losses all night.
Of course I felt guilty about my children, especially when I realised I had taken a good chunk of their inheritance.
But I would tell myself that I could win it back. I could even double their inheritance. Maybe I could make them millionaires, I tried to kid myself.
But I knew it was a lie.
My children knew I went to the casino occasionally but they have no idea how much I was gambling and how often.
One day in 2008 as usual I was in the casino and was losing. I asked the croupier to cash me another £1,000 worth of chips.
Within a minute or so, the casino manager approached me
“I'm sorry Miss Sofocleous we can't offer you these chips, your card has been declined.”
“But that is preposterous.” I shouted back.
“I'm sorry we tried a few times and it came back with the same answer.” He said.
In that moment it dawned on me. I had spent ALL of my children's inheritance.
I had done it again, but this time I couldn't blame anyone else. I had ruined my children's future because of my selfish addiction. I felt so ashamed.
I wanted the world to open up and swallow me whole. But I knew for once I had to do the right thing and come clean.
The next day I asked my children to come to see me as I had something to tell them
As they came into the house, they looked concerned.
“Are you ok mum, is there something wrong? Why did you want to see us?” Vicky said.
“Yes I'm fine but I have done something really bad and I have to tell you.” I said trembling.
“What is it mum, as long as you are ok, we can work through it” Pany said.
“Ok, well I have been gambling a bit, well a lot lately and I have managed to lose all of your inheritance money.”
I looked at my children and could see they were relieved and angry at the same time
Pany seemed angrier than Vicky who said it was fine as long as I wasn't ill, eventually he agreed with his sister but then said “It wasn't your money to lose.”
I didn't argue I agreed with them and promised that I would sort myself out
From that day on I battled my addiction. I did it without going to gambler anonymous, even though I would advise others with similar problems to seek professional help, hopefully before it is too late.
In 2009 I met Pany, 56 and he helped me through my addiction. We are very much in love, and he understands the trouble I have been with gambling.
This is now my last throw of the dice, I want to make some honest money for my kids.
Other gamblers lose everything including their families, homes and livelihood. I have been given a second chance.
I feel bad that she gambled the money away. We could have been a comfortable well off family, but sadly some things are not meant to be.
She was and still is a great mum and was always there for us and on the odd occasion she did win, she would slip us a few quid.
I guess gambling is her weakness, but I am just thankful she stopped before she gambled everything away. Some of her friends from the casino lost everything including their car, home and I guess dignity.
I dread to think what would have happened to our family if she hadn't stopped. Maybe losing her children's inheritance was the wakeup call she needed.
It did affect my lifestyle to a point. I think it was a bit selfish for her to do that when she had two kids. I don't hold a grudge but would obviously have preferred to have the money for my future.
When she has a go at me about money, I think she has no right after all she has lost.
Mum still looked after me, but it made me independent as I couldn't ask her for any money. It made me stand on my own two feet and taught me not to rely on anyone.
But calling someone a gambler doesn't mean they are a bad person, they have a problem, which they need to sort out, before it destroys their lives and others around them.
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