Real life stories

From Cash Converters to Counselling

18 November 2020
As John watched people coming out the door of a pokie venue, he told me he thought they looked sad. But as John courageously shared his gambling journey with me, it filled me with hope - because he had once walked out of that same venue looking sad.
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My gambling started mainly with pokies and “a little bit of online.”

I played pokies mainly in the RSA but there were half a dozen venues that I went to. It was a loneliness thing more than anything - I was out of town a lot because of my job.

I gambled for the best part of 20 years “on and off. For the first 15 years, the gambling was limited as I didn’t have spare money. But when my situation changed, and I had access to extra money, my gambling got to the stage where I couldn’t control it – it was starting to control me.

I don’t have an addictive personality, but the machines were stronger than me.”

They were filling a lonely space and left me feeling physically ill: Why did I just do that? Why did I stay there? Oh, that’s right, I was just killing time.

There were times when I spent money I shouldn’t have and I sold things at Cash Converters to “feed the machines.” I wouldn’t like to guess how much money I lost gambling, but I did sell my house and I haven’t bought another one.

I’ve had no savings over 20 years and was spending money that wasn’t there.

My family were unaware of what went on because I managed to hide it. I would tell them I was out riding my motorbike, but really I was in the pokie bar. I don’t agree with lying, but I was being deceitful. Gambling made me socially inept. I have shut myself away for the last five years gambling, rather than being social.

The turning point for me came just before Christmas on a day when the pokie machine I was using had three, thousand-dollar pay-outs so I could have walked away at any stage with $3,000.But I left that night with the $100 I’d walked in with.

I was lonely with nothing to do before Christmas. I couldn’t walk away from the machine – it had a hold on me, and I was mesmerised by it -feeding it, feeding it. I started gambling at 11am and left at closing time… at 11pm.

I knew at that point that I needed to do something about it. I knew that if I didn’t do something, all my Christmas holiday money would be gone, and I’d have nothing to show for it. I made the decision to stop gambling and go to counselling.

For me, going to counselling was about talking to someone, but my counsellor became a little bit like my conscience to start with. I knew that I would not only be letting myself down if I gambled, but I would be letting my counsellor down as well.

It is so important to understand why you gamble – analysing it and finding out why. The counselling touched on what had happened in my past and understanding my triggers to gamble.

Through my circle of friends, I know that you are never cured of an addiction and that you are only one step away from f***g up.

I have been gamble-free for nearly a year, and I have managed to pay off $8,000 worth of debt and save money. I made a decision and since then I have been able to save and buy a boat and go on a trip to the South Island.

I couldn’t have done this in the past because of gambling. That feeling of being socially inept has been addressed since I gave up gambling and I’ve met a new partner. By sorting things out, I have been able to move on with my life.

I only have to look out the window at the boat - that’s what I’ve got because I’ve stopped gambling.”

I think the whole system [of pokie gambling] needs to be overhauled and I don’t agree with gambling dens being “hidden”.

You don’t see the people driving flash cars in pokie halls. You will not get rich playing pokies – it may fill your time in but socially it is not good for you. You turn your phone off, ignore calls, and it’s lies covering lies.

I would like to see them banned – they do more harm than good. I guess, who am I to judge… but I’ve seen them do harm.

My greatest gift is to be able to help other people who may be going through what I’ve been through. No-one likes to admit they’re a liar…I had a lot of guilt around it and I’ve still got it, but it’s been replaced by being proud because I’ve given up.

What I would say to someone going through this is, I’ve been there and done that, I know how hard it is to give up and I’m here when you are ready.

PGF Services has a dedicated health promotion team who contribute to safer gambling practices and raise awareness through community education. One way we do this is by sharing our clients’ personal stories of gambling harm. We always have permission to share these stories and often they remain anonymous. Many people find that writing about their experience is therapeutic.

All names in this story have been changed for privacy.