From using a poker machine on a night out at 18, to being allowed into a VIP room as a “tall” 15-year-old, two former poker machine addicts have shared their stories of gambling harm and recovery.
For 28-year-old Central Coast tradie Jay Bateman, a night out with friends shortly after he turned 18 sparked a near-decade-long battle with gambling addiction.
He describes going into a Pub TAB room back then as a “right of passage” but while his friends stopped, he couldn’t.
“(Using the poker machines) probably one of the first things you’d be keen to do,” he told NCA NewsWire.
“I thought it was just the thing to do because everyone is talking about it. (It was like) you’d just have to see for yourself and have a go.”
Mr Bateman shared his story amid gambling reform emerging as a dominant issue in the lead up to the March 25 NSW state election. To date, both major parties have released policies to reduce money laundering via gambling machines and decrease gambling harm.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has committed to make all poker machines cashless by 2025, with gamblers able to set a daily limit which can only be increased every seven days, as well as bans on automatic and credit card top-ups.
Opposition leader Chris Minns has proposed a 500-machine cashless trial, plus cash feed-in limits of $500 – reduced from $5000.
By the time Mr Bateman was 19, the bulk of his pay was going towards gambling. A small loss for the tradie-turned-social worker was about $50 in a night, however that number could reach up to $2000 if he was trying to “chase the win”.
He estimates he would have lost around $50,000 to poker machines during his struggle.
“I was getting paid roughly $1200 a week and I’d go gambling about half an hour after it went in,” Mr Bateman said.
“I’d probably lose $200 that night, then you’d feel bad and then the next day you’d feel like going again because you’d lost it. It’s a vicious cycle.”
To this day, Mr Bateman doesn’t understand what led to his “full-time addiction”. During its height, he says he was using poker machines on most days of the week.
“Pretty much any spare time I had, I’d see myself going down the road to play and use them,” he said.
“To be honest, I don’t even know how I got myself in there. They sort of just trap you.
“The whole day, they’re bringing in free pies and sausage rolls. They have all these things and it’s like they’re setting up the environment for you not to leave.”
Roughly six months ago, Mr Bateman lost his final dollar down a poker machine. Paralysed by financial stress, he found himself borrowing money from family members, despite concerned friends and family members reaching out.
“I couldn’t save for anything and I wasn’t leaving myself anything,” he said.
Mr Bateman said the process of quitting was “quite easy” once he made up his mind, and also attended counselling sessions at Wesley Mission which helped him “open up” about his addiction.
“My grandmother forwarded me onto the Wesley Mission. I got a pamphlet from her two months ago; that was a good phone call,” he added.
“I’ve come to the realisation and found out that the actual win is if you don’t put any money in the machine themselves.”
‘I went into my first pokies room at 15’: Tim Gray, 42
Sydney tour guide, local musician and Gumbayngirr/Wiradjuri/Bidjigal man Tim Gray, 42, says he went to his first pokies room at the age of 15.
“I’ve done that since I was 15. I was allowed in pubs then because I was so tall and they just wanted the money,” he told NCA NewsWire.
“It was just always the money. Wanting more and more. Especially being an addict, even if you win, it’s not enough.”
While Mr Gray has been sober from drugs and alcohol since 2008, he noted he continued gambling through poker machines “on-and-off” through his sobriety.
“When an addict gives up drinking, they want to give it up but I didn’t want to give up gambling; I just wanted to have something,” he said.
“I also always struggled with money and I just wanted some easy money to get me my tiny home. Now I’ve realised that’s not going to work.
“I’m now treating the gambling like I did with alcohol and drink. GA, counselling and a financial counsellor,” he added.
Mr Gray said the peak of his struggle came in October 2023, when he hit a “rock bottom, is it going to kill me?” moment.
Staying at a motel for work, he spent the cost of the motel and his rent money on gambling.
“I would have got arrested but someone paid it for me,” he said.
It was the thought of his rescue cat, Crystal, while he was at his lowest that caused him to pause and reflect.
“Even all this time while I’ve been broke, I’ve made sure this cat has had food and litter, even if I don’t,” he said.
Now approaching his 90th day of sobriety, Mr Gray wants to share his struggles in the hopes of helping others.
“Just ask for help. It’s definitely not easy, but just reach out to talk to someone you trust and don’t feel ashamed,” he said.
“That’s why it can be good to talk to counsellors and people on the phone, like Lifeline.”
He hopes the current conversations around gambling reform will ultimately reduce the amount of poker machines in pubs and clubs, and hopes venues will be able to replace lost income through food or live music.
“I hardly went to the casino even in my worst gambling period, I’d head to a pub or club,” he said.
“We don’t need things that are going to take all our money away. Communities need things that help us.
“What is more important? Revenue or lives?”
Originally published as ‘It’s a vicious cycle’: How one night out sparked man’s decade-long gambling addiction
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