- Anna Bardsley thought pokies venues were a safe late-night haven for women but once her addiction took hold she “couldn’t escape”
- Pokies venues shut their doors on March 23 due to coronavirus restrictions and it saved gamblers nearly $2.5 billion
- Gambling Reform Alliance advocate Tim Costello wants the staged reopening of pokies venues to come with new rules on opening hours and loss rates
The security of bright lights and long opening hours at pokies clubs once provided an irresistible pull, lulling her into a false sense of calm and a feeling of safety.
“I needed to get out of the house,” Ms Bardsley said.
“I just thought if I don’t get out of here I don’t know what’s going to happen.
“I knew [the pokies venue] was safe for women on their own.
“Looking back, that was the beginning of the end for me.”
Her marriage eventually ended, but it took 10 years before she was able to turn her back on her destructive relationship with the pokies.
“I went there to escape my life, and it worked, but I couldn’t escape the pokies,” she said.
Family violence and loneliness could feed pokies addiction
The coronavirus pandemic forced gambling venues around the country to shut their doors on March 23.
The shutdown saved gamblers from losing nearly $2.5 billion at the pokies.
Gambling Reform Alliance chief advocate Tim Costello said the opening of New South Wales’ pokies rooms should act as a warning.
New South Wales allowed clubs and pubs to reopen their gambling rooms on June 1.
Pokies have also already reopened in the Northern Territory and are due to reopen in South Australia on June 29.
They are not due to reopen in Victoria, Queensland and the ACT until July.
Experts like Deakin University public health professor Samantha Thomas warn that as lockdown restrictions lift across the country, the pendulum could swing in the other direction, with more people using pokies due to a spike in family violence and loneliness.
“During the pandemic there could have been a lot more consultation with public health experts to work out how we actually start to rethink what we do about EGMs [electronic gambling machines] in our communities,” Professor Thomas said.
Professor Thomas warned vulnerable women, people dealing with family violence and those experiencing loneliness were primed to succumb to the draw of pokies.
“They are generally perceived as being safe spaces for people, obviously under the same roof we have these harmful products,” she said.
“One of the things that we’ve seen that has been really interesting is that women talk quite positively about not having access to the pokies — it’s not actually the pokies that they miss; it’s the [social] connection.
“The concern is people will start going back to the venues for some social connection because they’re isolated and lonely and then they transition into the pokies while they’re there.”
Call for fresh start on pokies rules as restrictions lift
Those calling for industry reform are urging governments to rethink the way the industry operates as venues reopen after the pandemic.
According to Mr Costello, the restart needs to be looked at more like a fresh start in order to reduce the harmful impact of the machines.
He said loss rates and opening hours needed attention.
“The pokies for the moment are gone,” he said.
“You would never reintroduce the pokies without limiting the ridiculous hours … without slowing down the loss rates.
“One dollar bet spins are what two productivity commissions have recommended.”
Ms Bardsley agreed.
“Pokies hotels and places are open 9:00am to 5:00am,” Ms Bardsley said.
“Nothing good happens in a pokies venue at 3:00am.
“We could have that closing at midnight.”
Ms Bardsley warned others who might seek refuge at pokies venues to think about the risks.
“The pokies made everything worse, they didn’t help me at all, other than momentarily,” she said.
“I would strongly suggest that other people that are considering it not do it. Get help.”