Grief led Rose* to gamble.
When her partner died by suicide 20 years ago, Rose took to gaming rooms for comfort.
Next month, with the help of Gamblers Anonymous, she will have gone 11 years without gambling on a poker machine.
Rose had gambled socially before her partner died but said grief turned her gambling compulsive.
“Friends took me there (gaming rooms) to get my mind off things and it did – but it’s a hidden disease,” she said.
“Nobody can tell by looking at you that you’ve been gambling and there are so many lies told.
“Coming to GA and being honest with myself and being honest with my friends and my family brings the greatest relief.
“I don’t have to tell lies anymore and the only apologies I have to make now are to myself.”
When she first started gambling Rose thought of gaming rooms as a social outlet where she felt safe and secure.
Rose first spoke to The Courier two years ago when the local Gamblers Anonymous membership had dwindled to two.
Now there are eight regular members.
“I found that I could sit on a poker machine and not have to think about it, I would forget that I had rent to pay, electricity, because there’s no bill collector tapping you on the shoulder.
“I’d always liked to have a gamble socially but then it hypnotises you.”
Her rock bottom came when she ran out of avenues to get money after years of being bailed out by friends and family.
Throughout her addiction, Rose worked full time.
“You can run out of money so many times that it actually makes you ill,” she said.
“I had times where I lived on crackers and Vegemite for two days because I had no money to buy food.”
Rose said seeing new members at GA gave her perspective on her recovery, which she describes as a long healing process.
“GA helped me to stop gambling, it’s a miracle for me that just going there and telling my story helps me to stop gambling.
“It’s simple things that I enjoy now and they’re things that don’t cost a lot of money, it’s not about money anymore.
“Once when I was gambling all I had was, where will I get my next dollar from to gamble.”
Gamblers Anonymous meetings are on Wednesdays between 7pm and 8.30pm at the Eastwood Leisure Centre. Entry is via the Short Street ramp.
People can attend meetings or phone Carol on 0402 599 671.
Help is also available via the Gamblers Anonymous helpline on 9696 6108.
*Rose is not her real name.
Ballarat punters have lost over $54 million on the pokies this last financial year, almost $1 million more than in 2014-15.
The new data released by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation shows the poker machine expenditure in Ballarat for the 2015-16 financial year was $54,611,247, up from $53,623,993.
Overall Victorians lost $2.6 billion on pokies, $44.7 million more than the previous year.
The local government areas of Brimbank, Casey, Dandenong, Geelong and Whittlesea topped the state in pokies losses, each losing over $100 million.
Over the last 12 months eight of the city’s 15 licensed gaming venues reported losses higher than in the 2014-15 financial year.
Ballarat’s 663 poker machines have taken in over $50 million every year since 2004-5.
North Ballarat Sports Club, which has 70 machines, had the biggest increase in losses, from $5,411,404 to $6,007,970.
Punters lost $4,751,929 at Sebastopol Bowling Club’s 50 machines, $300,000 more than the year before.
Zagame’s Ballarat Club Hotel, which has highest number of machines of any licensed venue in Ballarat, had $11,795,085 lost to its machines, up from $11,566,408 the 12 months before.
Over $42 million was lost at Zagames’ four licensed venues around state.
Anglicare Western Victoria’s Geoff Ryan said the organisation’s services were often used by people affected by problem gambling.
“We know that quite a lot of people that come to us for help are affected by problems with gambling so they end up coming to us because they’ve run out of money to buy food.”
“Over the last five years is it’s just been gradually building up, what I find extraordinary is the size of that amount.”
A nearly $1 million increase in Ballarat’s poker machine losses this last financial year shows the Your Play system is failing, a Ballarat Community Health researcher said.
The $179 million system, which allows poker machine users to voluntarily monitor and limit their spending, was introduced by the state government in December last year.
Users register a card and can set a maximum on the time or money they spend on the machines.
BCH research coordinator Dr Deborah Greenslade called on the government to introduce more robust harm minimisation measures, including $1 bet limits and a pre-commitment system which prevented poker machine users from opting out mid-play.
“I think it (the losses) does show that the Your Play government scheme simply doesn’t work,” Dr Greenslade said.
“We know that poker machines are designed to addict so we need a very robust harm minimisation measure not some weak pre-commitment measure that the gambler can simply opt out of at any time.”
Dr Greenslade, who is a member of the group Ballarat Action on Gambling Harm, said the government had a responsibility to manage the harm caused by poker machines.
“We’ve always accepted that it’s the place of government to manage products so they’re safe.
“Poker machines seems to be on of the products that is just put into the market.
“I think government are conflicted because of the revenue they receive.”
The state government is currently reviewing gambling harm minimisation measures including limiting in-cash venue withdrawals and stricter gaming machine penalties, a spokesperson said.
"We are focused on reducing the harm caused by problem gambling.
"Whilst gambling is a legitimate industry, we will continue to take an evidenced based approach to addressing the harm caused by problem gambling."
Liberal spokesperson for Liquor and Gaming Regulation Russell Northe said an increase in revenue from gambling had failed to translate to an increase in funding for services.
“In real-terms, no new funding has been added to gambling treatment services since Daniel Andrews was elected in 2014, despite rising gambling revenue filling government coffers.”
Mr Northe did not comment on whether he would support a $1 bet limit or the introduction of other harm minimisation measures.
Help is available through Counselling and Financial Counselling on 5337 3333.
Gamblers Help Line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 858 858.
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