Edition #15: June 2019

Woman in her 70s stands in front of a street and some trees, her face slightly in shadow as she smiles faintly for the camera.
Woman in her 70s stands in front of a street and some trees, her face slightly in shadow as she smiles faintly for the camera.
Lynda Genser, photo: Darcy Conlan

In search of a fresh start

I first started playing the pokies back in 1992, when they were introduced in Victoria. My very first time, I put in five cents and won $100. I thought that my good luck was going to last forever.

I remember my husband saying we needed some money and dropping me off at the pokies venue. At that stage, I funded my gambling with my business. I probably knew it was becoming a problem, but I wouldn’t admit it.

My husband and I separated a few years after I started gambling and I didn’t take it well. My children tried to help by asking me to stop gambling but then I became more secretive. I used to go out of my own area to gamble so I wouldn’t be found out.

I couldn’t afford my rent. I couldn’t afford food.

At the same time, I became the executive director at a charity, but my salary wasn’t enough. I couldn’t afford my rent. I couldn’t afford food.

They would give me blank cheques and let me put the amount in for office purchases, but I would add an extra $500 or $1,000 to the cheque, pocket the difference and spend it gambling.

I ended up taking $84,000 from them in less than two years.

Facing the music

What I did was wrong, and I knew I had to do something about my problem. I didn’t want my family to have to watch me ‘face the music’, so the only solution I saw was planning my suicide.

Fortunately, my son found me first and I told him what I did. We called my employer and the police, and I admitted what I’d done while my son held my hand. I told the treasurer, who happened to be my best friend, and she hasn’t spoken to me since that day. Then I told my other children, one of whom is a police officer.

I admitted what I’d done while my son held my hand.

The organisation said they wanted to charge me, and a case was built against me based on what I told them. I managed to get off with a good behaviour bond although, of course, I lost my job.

But I kept gambling in spite of everything that had happened.

Looking for help

I went to Gambler’s Help and they were marvellous when I was in one-on-one counselling. But the moment I was put into group therapy, I was listening to everyone talk about how they’d won or lost, which became a trigger for my gambling.

After three years of going to counselling less and less often, I tried to manage my own gambling. It took a few more years before I realised I had to change. I had a choice between my family and my gambling.

Every pregnancy from my kids, I was asked to stop gambling. I’m lucky enough to have seven grandchildren, including a grandson who was born in 2006. My daughter said that if I wanted to be involved in her son’s life, I had to stop. It took until he was born for me to realise I had to quit to protect the relationships with my family who stood by me.

The last time I gambled was August 2006, but we made the anniversary September 1st because that had also been my wedding anniversary. That was my special day and I still keep it that way.

I had to quit to protect the relationships with my family who stood by me.

I haven’t had any relapses. I gave up cold turkey and, for the first six months, I’d drive out of my way not to pass pokies venues.

I continue to get support from the team at Child and Family Services Ballarat and found the most understanding person. I had nightmares that I’d gone back to gambling but she got me out of that rut.

Battling stigma and new beginnings

I tell people that I’m a gambler and I always will be, but I don’t gamble anymore.

Gambling on the pokies is like having a frontal lobotomy. You sit there and listen to the music and it relaxes you, but at the same time you’ve got adrenaline surging. That was what I used as a coping mechanism, but it takes over your whole world and you become stunted.

I tell people that I’m a gambler and I always will be, but I don’t gamble anymore.

Now I’m a member of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s Lived Experience Advisory Committee. I decided to join when my daughter-in-law saw an ad and said, ‘I know you’ll be good at this. You’re really supportive.’

I hope that by being part of this committee, I can help other people. I’m going to try my darndest to make a difference and hopefully help even just one person stop gambling.

How to get support

If you have a gambling problem, or are affected by someone else's gambling, support is available 24/7. Call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858 or Gambler's Help Youthline on 1800 262 376.

To find out more about getting support, including online help and self-help tools, visit: gamblershelp.com.au.

Read more personal stories from people who have experienced gambling harm.

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