THE last time Rose* played a poker machine, she was physically sick.
“I thought ‘what am I doing with my life. I’ve got no money for food for the rest of the week’,” Rose said.
“Physically and mentally, I couldn’t do it anymore. I was vomiting and dry retching.”
Almost a decade later, Rose is happily living in Ballarat and one of the mainstays of the local Gamblers Anonymous.
“It’s changed my life. Every minute of the day I used to think about pokies, but now I can drive past a venue and not even realise any more.
“I’m like a diabetic who has to have medication, but my medication is a meeting.
“It reminds me I don’t want that life again. I tell my story, not because I’m unhappy or because I’m living in the past, but to remind me of the life I have now.”
Rose began playing the pokies in Queensland 20 years ago and became progressively more addicted while still holding down a high-powered job.
“It was a secret. I was gambling on the way home from work. I thought ‘I’ve worked hard today. I can have a little bit of a flutter. It’s just $20’.
“But then it was more every time and soon more wasn’t enough.”
Eventually, Rose maxed out all her credit cards and was spending any cash she had on the machines.
“Sometimes the rent wasn’t paid and I borrowed from my kids. I’d say I’d need four new tyres or my motor had gone and I had no way of getting work.
“I lived on my own and I thought I wasn’t hurting my family, but they were worried.”
Rose even slept in a chair in front of the TV to block out the constant ringing of poker machines in her ears, rather than in the quiet of her bedroom.
Two years before she gave up gambling for good, Rose attended a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, but walked away convinced she wasn’t like the other people there.
Ten years ago she went back and saw a “little glimmer of hope”.
Rose moved to live with family in Melbourne and began attending regular GA meetings.
“I’d sit under a tree in between meetings and cry. I never saw a doctor, but I probably had deep depression. It was the love of my family that got me through. They never gave up on me.”
Rose said GA gave her a chance to start again. She gained a sponsor and never looked back, moving to Ballarat four years ago.
However, Rose is concerned local GA meetings are only attracting two to three regular attendees, particularly when Ballarat punters lose about $4 million monthly, equating to $1 million weekly and about $150,000 daily, on poker machines.
“A lot of people in a small town think they can’t go to a GA meeting because people will know them.
“But you walk into a room and you have something in common with that person.
“It’s an anonymous group. What is said there, stays there.”
Meetings are held Wednesdays between 7pm and 8.30pm at the Eastwood Leisure Centre, with entry via the Short Street ramp.
People can attend meetings or phone Carol on 0402 599 671.
Alternatively, the Gamblers Anonymous helpline is 9696 6108.
*Rose is not her real name.