It’s been 30 years since the announcement was made that Victoria would introduce poker machines into the state. While it was Labor who unlocked the door, the Liberal Party has helped prop it wide open. For both parties, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Thirty years ago, pubs closed at 10pm, now they’re open 20 hours out of 24 and the only part of the venue open all those hours is the pokies room.
When they first arrived in Victoria I went occasionally with a group of friends, we had a cheap meal and then headed into the ‘gaming room’ for a flutter. It seemed harmless; we laughed a lot and never spent more than $20 each. But we didn’t know we were using an addictive product.
Then one night after yet another huge argument with my husband, I left the house, nothing else was open, so, in I went – I knew what to do, knew it was warm and safe, OK for a woman on her own. It seemed like a good idea, at the time.
I went there to escape, and it worked. The machines did what I later learned they are designed to do: calmed me down, took me to another place – to the zone. It wasn’t long, and I was hooked. I told myself I deserved a break and I did, but I didn’t deserve the pokies.
The solution had become the problem. Poker machines took 10 years of my life.
It is more than 14 years since I’ve put any money in a machine. Stopping gambling was very, very hard but recovery was more than just stopping. There were groups and many years of counselling from Gambler’s Help. I had to learn to live without the numbing effect of the machines, I had to learn to forgive myself for being the person I had never thought I’d be – a gambling addict.
I now know I’m not alone, I’m one of many who have fallen prey to poker machines. We are kept silent by the shame that comes with a gambling addiction. Shame that is fuelled by the language of ‘responsible gambling’.