A FEW weeks ago Tracy Smith knew virtually nothing about poker machines, apart from playing them once or twice.
Then she suddenly and tragically lost her older sister Julie.
“She didn’t die from a car accident or from natural causes or from an illness like cancer,” Tracy said.
“She had an illness of another kind ... a gambling addiction which led her to commit suicide.”
Tracy spoke to The Courier yesterday to push for help for problem gamblers after deciding her sister’s death shouldn’t be in vain.
She also made an impassioned presentation on Ballarat City Council’s Ballarat Gaming Framework on Wednesday night.
“My sister was a professional, lived alone and out of loneliness was lured to the pokie venues,” she said.
“My sister’s death won’t hit the front pages as it would for a car accident or various other ways of death ... hers is a silent one that is pushed under the covers.”
Tracy said her sister had been a problem gambler for the past 10 years, but no one in the family knew until she died.
Her bank statements showed her wage of $1000 being deposited in her account weekly, only for $900 to be withdrawn just minutes or hours later.
“She lived two lives. She just used to tell us life was hard and everything was always breaking down.
“It shows what addiction does to you that you have to use trickery and untruths to cover up your addiction.”
Tracy said she was angry that there were no triggers to stop her sister gambling.
“Surely the venues should have a duty of care. They were allowing her to come in relentlessly and consistently for 10 years.”
Tracy said she wanted a similar system to hotels where it is illegal for bartenders to serve alcohol to intoxicated people.
“Why is a bar held accountable but establishments like this are above the law?
“Even when they see someone going repeatedly to an ATM machine they are not obliged to say something or restrict the use of a machine. Something is very wrong here.
“There needs to be a sense of accountability for the problem of gambling to be addressed.”
Tracy said a July 1 move to take ATMs out of pokie venues was a step in the right direction, along with the council’s gaming framework which she said addressed all the correct areas of having fewer venues, reducing operating hours and trying to keep pokies out of lower socio-economic areas.
She called on the state government to introduce “triggers” for problem gamblers to be removed from venues.
“The revenue is not worth having when the social cost is too high, and the death of pokies addicts is too high a price to pay.”
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* Names have been changed.