The heavy toll of gambling on one Tweed woman

Mary was a former gambling addict Photo: John Gass / Daily News
Mary was a former gambling addict Photo: John Gass / Daily News John Gass

TWEED resident Mary* always said she would never play the pokies.

And now after years of gambling addiction she wishes she had stuck to her guns.

The 55-year-old said her troubles with gambling began after the death of her father and another family member.

"I loved the isolating part of being in a club and hiding away in its dark," Mary said.

"I started off with small amounts, whenever I needed that escape, and after a while I felt like I needed to increase the bet amount to get that same hit.

"When I got really bad I was putting $2000 through at a time.

"At the end it got so bad I became suicidal."

Initially people will have a win, which imprints subconsciously and they wrongly hang on to this belief that they can win.

After five years of her life being ruled by binge gambling she finally sought help from the Northern Rivers Gambling Service.

Michael Hanley, a senior counsellor from the service, said many retirees on the Tweed were vulnerable to poker machine addiction after trauma.

"With the Tweed, a lot of couples come up here with their nest egg," Mr Hanley said.

"Sometimes one gets sick and passes away and the other, who's left with isolation and loneliness, can be susceptible.

"Poker machines can offer a distraction, with all their stimulation, lights, sounds and magic symbols.

"Initially people will have a win, which imprints subconsciously and they wrongly hang on to this belief that they can win."

Some local retirees are living in squalid conditions to pay for their addiction.

"A high percentage of elderly people will live on crumb sandwiches to put money into the machines and some get a home equity loan, which can be $50,000 to $60,000," he said.

Mr Hanley sees four to five people per day in his clinic in Tweed Heads South, but is hesitant to blame the local clubs for the problem.

"We try to keep a good relationship with the local clubs," he said.

"If they think someone has a problem they will refer them to us or the 24/7 hotline."

Mary is not quite as forgiving.

"Elderly people are being exploited by the clubs," she claimed.

"There's a lot of friendliness and caring, first-name basis with the staff, free coffee, put your hand up if you win something, that sort of thing.

"Some of these elderly people just don't understand how the machines work."

Australian gambling facts

  • Up to 500,000 Aussies are at risk of becoming, or are, problem gamblers.
  • 75% of problem gamblers have problems with poker machines.
  • Australians spent $19b on gambling in 2008-09; about $12b on the pokies.
  • Only 15% of problem gamblers seek help.
  • Problem gamblers are six times more likely to be divorced.
  • Children of problem gamblers are 10 times as likely to be problem gamblers.

Source: Australian Government, visit

Note: Mary's named has been changed and withheld.

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