Pokies' lure too strong

By Steve Deane

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

John did his best to get away from gambling. He didn't succeed.

He'd always gambled and never had much control over it. When Christchurch Casino opened in 1994, John would fly down for gambling weekends. It got expensive. He worked in a bank. Bad combination. He stole $12,000. He didn't get caught, but was sacked anyway, for making too many mistakes. The stress of funding and covering up his gambling addiction wrecked his concentration.

He hit rock bottom when Auckland Casino opened in 1996. He'd just started a new job. He took his first month's pay of around $1600 to the casino and lost it in one sitting.

He knew he couldn't go on like that, so he barred himself. He got counselling, and moved to the Hibiscus Coast. Then a pokie bar opened up in his local town centre. John ran away from gambling, but there was no hiding from the 25,000 poker machines that invaded the country in the late 1990s.

"Suddenly the problem had come to me," said John, a New Zealand European in his late 40s. Pokies were irresistible.

"The bells would ring. You'd get 15 free spins, plus all your wins would be tripled for those free spins. You are now watching the machine play itself and it is paying you. Then during the free spins you get more free spins. That is heaven. It is better than sex."

Then you lose, and lose big. And it's "oh my god, what have I done"?

"That's when all the cheating, lying and stealing starts."

John's story, he says, is about mental anguish. Other than his gambling addiction, he's been a fully functioning member of society. But he's tortured himself and those around him over and over again. He gambles, he quits, he relapses. Gambling has cost him at least $100,000. If he relapses again it will cost him his partner, who will leave him.

"I'm not some no-hoper. I've always had paid jobs. I consider myself to be reasonably intelligent. But there's this one aspect of my life that I can't control, and that messes with you. You say to yourself I won't gamble today and then at 5 o'clock there you are in front of that machine."

John never thought about where his money went, but he doesn't believe it should have been used for funding sport.

"I suppose in a sea of darkness there may be a little spot of light, but I never thought about it at the time.

"My attitude to sports funding is that they got their money somewhere prior to all this gambling. They need to reinvent the system. The whole thing needs to be revisited. Causing people misery so Johnny and his brother can kick a ball around on a Saturday morning - to my mind that's not where it's at."

- NZ Herald

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