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Byron Shire
November 29, 2021

My life was saved by COVID-19

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An estimated 300,000 Australians addicted to pokies

According to www.proudlypokiesfree.com, ‘Australia has 0.3 per cent of the planet’s population, yet we have 20 per cent of the world’s gaming machines. Australians spend $12,000,000,000 a year on the pokies and around 40 per cent of this comes from problem gamblers’.

‘Of the 200 thousand poker machines in pubs and clubs across the country, over half are in New South Wales and 94 per cent of those are found in neighbourhood venues’.

The organisation estimates that ‘300,000 Australians are addicted to pokies and that 75 per cent of those people have a problem because of pokies in our pubs and clubs’.

Fanny says her life was saved by COVID-19

Though the pandemic has created global havoc, for some there is a silver lining.

A local woman says she has been able to conquer an addiction to pokies by being kept away from them.

Fanny* is 75 and a naturally shy woman who has had a serious of hard knocks which have left her isolated and alone.

She was so bullied in her job as a medical secretary that she had to leave and was never able to work in a conventional way again.

She had a husband who simply packed up and left without warning, another partner who was murdered and another whom she nursed through dementia before his death.

She became a member of a sporting club and though she felt she didn’t fit in with the other players, it was a semblance of companionship – enough to keep her afloat.

It started as simple entertainment

Before her partner had lost his memory, they had often sat at the pokies together. They’d play and spend a few dollars and have a few drinks. It was simply entertainment.

When he died in 2012 she was crushed and within a year she also lost a much-loved aunt and her mum. She forced herself to find things to fill her time – the club, a choir and a dog called Molly.

As soon as I found myself unoccupied, at a loss, I’d go. I’d play for a couple of hours and have a couple of drinks. Back then I had enough sense to say “get out of here”

It was then that she began a slow downward slide. ‘I started going to the club at about lunchtime – almost every day. As soon as I found myself unoccupied, at a loss, I’d go. I’d play for a couple of hours and have a couple of drinks. Back then I had enough sense to say “get out of here”.’

At that stage Fanny was putting about $50 in the machine each time she played.

Depression and loneliness contributed to addiction

This went on for a couple of years then things got worse. ‘I was getting very depressed and I was really crying all the time. I felt trapped by the fact that I couldn’t make myself enjoy anything. I didn’t enjoy the lifestyle of others at the club and found that I was becoming really anti-social and isolated.’

The slide got steeper in 2017 when Fanny got very ill. ‘My brother came to visit for a while and we had such a lovely time. Then he left and I fell flat.

‘I couldn’t play sport so I’d just go to the pokies as soon as they opened. I didn’t feel comfortable talking to others so I’d stay until I got drunk.

I felt really crazy – I felt I needed AA and Gamblers anonymous, but I didn’t do either. I was worried about being preached at and I thought “you weak little shit you can do it by yourself”

‘This was the beginning of me feeling crazy – I felt really crazy – I felt I needed AA and Gamblers anonymous, but I didn’t do either. I was worried about being preached at and I thought “you weak little shit you can do it by yourself”.

‘I was just pouring my money into the machines and I wasn’t getting anything out but self loathing.’

Fanny got to the point where she really tried to stop. She made several attempts. She excluded herself from the club. Then changed her mind. ‘I felt like a cripple. I felt like I needed someone to do it for me and I felt weak and pissed off at myself.’

I deluded myself thinking that the problem wasn’t as bad as it was. The big win was the magnet that I kept me coming back but it never happened again

Alcohol and the pokies went hand-in-hand for Fanny. One day she had a huge win and thought this is a way to solve her financial problems, so her habits got worse. ‘I bet bigger and lost bigger and I always lost more than I won. I deluded myself thinking that the problem wasn’t as bad as it was. The big win was the magnet that kept me coming back and it never happened again.’

Fanny says the most she spent in a day was probably $500 – a lot for a pensioner. She estimates that she has put about $80,000 into the machines and probably pulled about $40,000 out. Fanny says one of the worst things is the access to ATMs at the venue. ‘You can’t run out of money. The temptation is too great.’

Incredibly thankful coronavirus happened

Fanny says that as soon as COVID-19 hit she knew she had to isolate herself  for her health. ‘I didn’t fret – I was incredibly thankful and grateful, grateful coronavirus happened.’

Fanny is thankful she doesn’t have a clue how to gamble online and says she hasn’t had any yearning to play the pokies since the lockdown began.

‘I’ve been working like a navvy gardening all day then I do housework. I suddenly realised that I could apply myself to things I have been putting off for years. That part of my life is gone and I am really thankful.

Make yourself think logically about the money you put in there. The chances of putting money in and winning are nil – it’s really a dead end. Don’t be thinking because you won once or twice you’re a winner – you’re not!

‘Pokies are incredibly dangerous. Make yourself think logically about the money you put in there. The chances of putting money in and winning are nil – it’s really a dead end. Don’t be thinking because you won once or twice you’re a winner – you’re not!

‘Poker machines don’t make you feel good, you only think they do. Do anything else. Find something purposeful. Do something useful – THAT will make you feel good. My finances are much better  –  I’ve still got bills, but I am paying off my credit card. That makes me feel good. It’s a huge weight gone. I bought 150 koala trees, that’s the sort of thing that makes me feel good.

I’ve paid my dues

Fanny doesn’t know whether she will return to the venue. ‘It may sound naive, but it’s a bit like going to prison and then you have paid your dues – I feel liberated. Confident. I am always a little bit anxious, I suppose like anyone who’s had a problem, but I hope it’s going to be alright. I am amazed how it doesn’t disturb me one little bit not going to the club.

‘I wonder what that means – when you are completely out of control then it stops’.

If you feel you have a problem there are many places you can get help – here’s a start: Gamblers Anonymous Australia.

*Not her real name

Correction: Reference to the reopening times for pokies was deleted from the original story after ClubsNSW said that they are still unsure of exact dates.

 


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4 COMMENTS

  1. My story is the same. So grateful the pokes were closed due to COVID-19, I don’t miss them at all and had no inclination to play online. It’s just not the same. I’ve been playing almost 20 years and got to the point of spending almost $1000 a week. I am nervous about June 1 approaching. Will old habits come back? I really hope not.

  2. Oh Lara I wish you all the best – I know saying “be strong” might sound a bit trite, but I am wishing you strength.

  3. Wow! This is so good…so many bad opinions about the restrictions – it’s great to hear people overcoming such monumental addictions! I got sent this article after a Facebook discussion about how there’s so many positives from the advent of Covid-19 – but there are too many negative connotations promoted within the media and (god, buddha, allah help us), also by our, er… “leaders”….of sorts. Good on you, Echo for your independence and balanced journalism…you are TRULY in the minority with NewsCorp buying and destroying our local media.

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