FIONA was down to her last 10 cents when she picked up the phone and got her life back.
A 10-year pokie addict, Fiona (not her real name) finally called Gambler’s Help when she had to turn to welfare for food.
“They just about destroyed me,” she said.
“I’m enjoying life now. I don’t have to worry about getting sucked in and spending all my money on pokies.”
Fiona, 62, also has a message for other poker machine addicts during Responsible Gambling Awareness Week.
“Ring Gambler’s Help and get yourself excluded from pokie venues. And do it for the maximum time. Don’t think you can get over it.”
Fiona believes she turned to poker machines because of loneliness.
“When you live on your own, you go to the venue and it’s a pleasant, happy atmosphere.
“There is free tea and coffee and you forget about your loneliness for a while.
“Until there is nothing left in your purse. Then not only are you still lonely, you are broke as well.”
Fiona started by spending just $5 or $10 once a week but escalated once she won a $900 jackpot.
She went from venue to venue, trying to win big again.
“After losing at one place, I’d figure I might be luckier at another. And then I started to have the feeling that I was out of control.”
Fiona dipped into her savings and sold all her jewellery to finance her addiction.
“It all came to a head when I had 10 cents left to get me through the next fortnight.”
Fiona got herself excluded from all Ballarat and district venues for two years.
“Last year I decided to test myself to see if I was over the compulsion and I went to a venue. No good. I couldn’t leave the machines alone.”
She got herself excluded — which involves having her photo up in all the venues — for another two years.
“Self-exclusion gave me back my life. I accepted that I couldn’t go in the venues and it was like turning a switch. I could forget about the machines. It would be good if they had lifetime bans.”
Fiona had to declare bankruptcy but is now debt-free and doing volunteer work six days a week, as well as being involved in her church community.
“My advice to people is not to go to the venues to tackles loneliness. Try to do something constructive instead, like doing some volunteer work.
“If you are already going and finding it a problem, ring Gambler’s Help because there are options to help you before you lose all your money.”
Gambler’s Help can be contacted on 1800 858 858. Gambler’s Anonymous meetings are held each Monday at 507 Eyre Street, Ballarat, at 7pm.
Fill The Gap, a social cafe gathering, is also being set up for gamblers looking for alternative social activities. Ring Dory Russell at Child and Family Services on 0408 577 403 for more information.