Gambling addict wins 3 years jail sentence

A 55-year-old travel agent's gambling addiction has won her a three year jail sentence after she stole $52,558 from her Brisbane employer.

Over an 18 month period Beryl Kay Mudgway defrauded her employer by transferring money to her own accounts to pay for holidays for family and friends and to pay credit card debts.

According to her lawyer, James Godbolt, Mudgway stole the money to feed an addiction to poker machines - she apparently still owes more than $15,000 for a car loan and has credit card debts.

Judge Kerry O'Brien, while he accepted Mudgway was of previous good character and genuinely remorseful, felt obliged to hand down a three year jail term to be suspended after she serves 10 months.

The Brisbane District Court heard that on 89 separate occasions Mudgway who worked at Talpacific Holidays in Brisbane started stealing the money in January 2006 by refunding customers' money into her own account, drawing cheques on the company account and using the general manager's credit card to steal money.

Mudgway who pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated fraud is it seems deeply ashamed of her behaviour and apparently intends returning home to New Zealand when she is released from jail where she will have family support.

While most people have gambled at some time playing poker machines, lotto, backing a racehorse or a flutter at a casino, for some gambling is an addiction.

Problem or compulsive gambling is defined by whether harm is experienced by the gambler or others, rather than by the gambler's behaviour and is considered by the American Psychological Association to be an impulse control disorder that is a chronic and progressive mental illness.

A compulsive gambler is preoccupied with thoughts about gambling needing larger or more frequent wagers to experience the same "rush" and attempts to cease or reduce gambling cause withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness or irritability - the addict gambles again to improve mood or escape problems, to win back gambling losses with more gambling and lies and cheats to hide the extent of their gambling.

A gambling addict will break the law in order to obtain gambling money or recover gambling losses which may include acts of theft, embezzlement, fraud, forgery, or bad checks.

This behaviour puts relationships both at work and home under considerable risk and according to research up to 2% of the Australian population has a gambling problem, which represents a considerable number of people experiencing the financial and mental stress that gambling can inflict.

Many experts believe that pathological gambling is an addiction similar to chemical addiction and some research has found that some pathological gamblers have lower levels of norepinephrine than normal gamblers - norepinephrine is secreted under stress, arousal, or thrill, and the suggestion is that pathological gamblers gamble to make up for their under-dosage.

Brain scans used in a gambling-like experiment have also revealed that winning money produces brain activation very similar to that observed in a cocaine addict receiving an infusion of cocaine and there is also a suspicion that deficiencies in serotonin might also contribute to compulsive behaviour, including a gambling addiction.

Most treatment for problem gambling involves counselling, step-based programs, self-help, peer-support, or a combination of all these.

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