Changes are afoot for gambling services as a Ballarat Community Health project wraps up but concerns exist the lure for problem gamblers may be as strong as ever.
Sixteen organisations from across Ballarat came together right before the start of the pandemic to create the All-In Gambling Harm Prevention Project.
While the project had to pivot because of COVID-19 lockdowns, they focused on educating organisations and businesses to help prevent stigma around gambling addiction.
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The project's other focus was creating opportunities within the community for gamblers to direct their attention to other hobbies and activities.
Lynda Genser, a committee member who has lived experience with gambling addiction, said creating community was an important part of helping gamblers beat their addiction.
"There are a lot of older people, particularly women, who have nothing else to do," Ms Genser said.
"Now they can find out there is."
It has been 16 years since Ms Genser last used pokie machines.
She said it took an ultimatum from her child threatening that she would not be involved in her grandchild's life if she did not stop.
"It was good that somebody did that," Ms Genser said.
Now she lives with one of her children and youngest grandson and spends her time in Ballarat volunteering and building connections to members in the community.
"Keeping busy is the most important thing," Ms Genser said.
She said using the pokie machines could feel like you had had part of your brain removed.
"All you feel is the pleasure of the sounds and you have no idea whatsoever about what is going on around you. You could go with friends and you do not talk to them all evening."
Advocates were hoping that lockdowns and the closure of pokie venues could break the habitual repetitive behaviour of some gamblers.
However recent figures show gambling losses have surged back to pre-pandemic numbers in Ballarat.
On the high end, over $3 million was put into machines at Golden Point Hotel - formally named Zagame's Ballarat Club Hotel - while on the lower end in Ballarat the Golf House Hotel and George Hotel made over $600,000 and $700,000 respectively.
In April this year $5.4 million was lost on pokie machines within the Ballarat area compared to $5.1 million the previous year.
Despite the All-In Project coming to an end, organisers are optimistic about the resources and knowledge they are leaving behind.
When speaking at the All-In Project conclusion event, Ballarat Child and Family Services Gamblers Help community officer John Bradshaw said it was important for the organisations involved to "keep doing what they are doing".
"Continue to create opportunities for alternative recreation and social connection among your staff, among your friends in your organisations," he said.
"We can be there for each other in that way, it can reduce stigma, it can open up conversations and share stories of hope, and offer practical support."
Need to talk? Phone Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858, Ballarat Cafs on 5337 3333, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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