Real life stories

​From homelessness to hope

06 October 2023
John shares his story on how gambling on pokies impacted his life.
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I was homeless but no one at work suspected anything. I kept it hidden.”

John Kemp has bravely shared his journey of recovery to help others who may be experiencing harm from gambling or may be impacted by someone else’s harmful gambling.

John’s story is one of hope; his journey highlights the challenges and obstacles he overcame to set himself on a new path and the positive steps he has taken in his recovery.

It began in 2011 when John sheltered from the rain in the Edinburgh Castle pub. As he waited for the rain to ease, he heard the sounds of the pokie machines in the bar. Those sounds were John’s introduction to these highly addictive machines that started with a win, then spiralled to losses that had a significant and serious impact on his life.

“I heard the sound of the machines and thought well, I’ve got $2 to put in it. And what do you know? I won $125. I think I started to expect to win and if it was easy money let's keep it going. I didn’t know it was a trap. My mind was wanting to win big, but the reality was the long losing streak.”

John said he never played at the casino because, although the food was good, he could never stand the atmosphere with so many people.

“I stuck to pubs way across Auckland and I never really did any other gambling besides pokies apart from once betting on a horse which ran away with my money.”

John soon started to notice his pokie gambling was impacting on his life and posing some challenges.

“I was showing up to work late, calling in and saying, ‘sorry I'm going to be late today’. I started staying longer on the pokies and losing.”

John said the amount he gambled ran into thousands of dollars from when he put his first $2 into the machine and won $125.

“I would sell stuff, borrow stuff. I never stole anything. I worked long hours just to fuel the urge and stay in the game.”

John describes his lowest point as when he was kicked out of his accommodation because he spent the rent on pokies.

“That was in 2017. I just walked out with what was on my back. No change of clothes, no blankets. Nothing. I went straight to the Auckland Central Library and lived there for two years. Man, it was cold.”

“I was working full time and asking myself how the hell am I going to sort his out? The impact of the gambling never really dawned on me. I kept it hidden in the background and told myself “You will be alright.”

John signed up to CityFitness so he could access the showers.

“The City Mission also provided breakfast and dinner, no lunch. Eventually, when the City Mission moved to its new premises, I could access a free laundromat and showers five days a week. Eddy and his team were amazing.”

“I went into a nervous breakdown due to the impact of gambling and what it had done to me after long term exposure. I went into survival mode. I knew most of the people who lived at the library. There where 22 of us. I stayed at the side of the library with someone else. Where we both lived was the best shelter but the worst area to sleep in terms of comfort. The front of the library was the most comfortable place to sleep but the worst shelter from wind and rain.”

John was still holding down full-time work despite being homeless.

“I was homeless but no one at work suspected anything. I kept it hidden. The boss was angry at me one day because I closed the shop up and left a mess. He asked me why I had left a mess and why I deserved to go home. I kept my cool. He never knew I was homeless.”

“I honestly never gambled when I was homeless. I was too far gone and worried about how I was gonna get out of this mess which I'd got myself into.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, people who were homeless were put in temporary accommodation. John was supported by Lifewise and has been with them ever since.

“I got an apartment in the city when that happened and finally I told my boss about being homeless. He almost fell off the earth. He was angry and ashamed at the same time saying ‘I'm so sorry I never knew’. I told him it was ok.”

“When I got back on track, I didn’t realise that the gambling that I had been hiding was rising to the surface again. I went back gambling again and noticed I was repeating the same thing, gambling close to the days when the rent was due.”

“I was losing again and again and again. Then I decided right then and there….


“I went to every pokie place I visited and excluded myself from 13 venues – the finale was the casino.”

“I sought help from PGF and we are working on a 66 day programme. So far, from July 6 until today, I have not gambled. PGF and I have planned to work at ways to keep me safe and gamble-free.

“It’s a hard road but seeing services like PGF helps. Thanks PGF for the support and Aroha.”

John’s advice to others who may be experiencing harm from gambling…

“Look at the people’s faces when you walk into the venue to self-exclude. This is what you see. Loss and gain – the venue’s loss, your gain.

“Save yourself the pain and exclude yourself straight away. Don’t think about it, do it. Do it now and seek help from PGF.

John thinks pokies should be banned in areas of high risk.

“Red tape them and apply heavy fines so they can't afford to run venue.”

If you are concerned about your own or someone else’s gambling, free and confidential support is available.

You can also test your gambling here.

Save yourself the pain and exclude yourself straight away. Don’t think about it, do it. Do it now and seek help from PGF.”