Support helps addict's struggle

Photo from ODT files.
Photo from ODT files.
Dunedin residents spent more than $17 million on the pokies last year. Star reporter Jonathan Chilton-Towle spoke to a woman who is fighting a gambling addiction while working to re-establish a Gamblers Anonymous support group in the city.

A group of gambling addicts are working together to resurrect Gamblers Anonymous in Dunedin.

The group, which has not existed in Dunedin for several years, had its first meeting last night in the Catholic Social Services Building in South Dunedin.

One of the organisers, who wanted to be called Sandra to protect her identity, said she started gambling relatively late in life, in 2000. Although she had occasionally placed bets at the races, she had never really gambled before that.

''I live on my own, I have no family around and am not accountable to anyone, and therefore it was easy for me to go to the pokie venue whenever I felt like it.''

Sandra began by spending around $20 per visit but her habit quickly ballooned to spending around $300 in an evening.

''I was taking money out on my credit card and losing most of my salary. I might be there for up to five hours without using the toilet or having a drink of coffee, feeling guilty all the time.

"The pokie rooms are warm, there are always people there that I recognise. I know it is a waste of time and money but still I'm drawn to it,'' she said.

Sandra has tried to quit gambling many times. She often attended support meetings and at one point managed to quit for 11 months. However, so far, she has always gone back to the pokies.

On Friday, she had not gambled for one month and maintained hope that she would one day be able to kick the habit forever.

Sandra and some friends have decided to bring back Gamblers Anonymous to help themselves and others.

''I found that talking to others about my gambling has helped me stay away from the pokies. I think it's often hard for people who don't gamble to understand how difficult it is to stop and how other gamblers can help each other,'' she said.

Sandra believed there was a huge gambling problem in Dunedin because she had seen large numbers of people at the pokies and TAB.

Problem Gambling Foundation counsellor and health promoter Thomas Moore said setting up Gamblers Anonymous was a ''really good thing'' as a wider spread of services meant more people would be reached.

The numbers of people presenting to the Foundation with gambling problems had remained relatively consistent, with an estimated 130 to 150 new cases per year, he said.

It was hard to find reliable information about how prevalent gambling was, he said.

At March 31, there were 490 pokie machines in Dunedin. According to the Problem Gambling Foundation, most of these were in the poorest third of the city.

According to the Department of Internal Affairs website, gaming machine profits in Dunedin had been more than $4 million for the quarter up until March 2014.

If gambling continues at the same rate, profits will surpass $16 million by the end of the year.

In 2013, gambling machine profits for Dunedin were more than $17 million.


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