Carol* has been able to pay her bills without a worry since the shutdown of poker machine venues due to COVID-19.
She is one of thousands of people in Australia who are seeking help for their gambling addiction while access to the pokies is cut off.
Alliance for Gambling Reform estimates more than $2 million has been saved in less than two months across Australia since the closure of pokies venues.
Carol first contacted Gambler's Help around two-and-a-half years ago and has weekly one-on-one sessions with her counsellor Saniya from CAFS Ballarat's financial counselling team.
She is continuing sessions with Saniya on the phone during the coronavirus pandemic and is feeling proud of not going to the pokies or turning to any other gambling avenue for months.
"I know a lot of other people are doing online gambling because there is no pokies, but I have managed to get my act together," Carol said.
"I managed with the help of Gamblers Help to get the strength to get on top of it. But it is like alcoholism - it is always there. I don't think you ever get totally cured from it, but you certainly get control of it."
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Carol's ex-husband was a chronic gambler, an alcoholic and was violent in the home. Carol had always been the main breadwinner for the family.
Carol was suddenly no longer able to work after being in an accident, but her husband continued gambling and drinking the family's money away.
"Everything I had worked for hard over the years was gambled away. I became so depressed," she said.
"I started to go to the pokies because I got this screwed up idea that somehow I would be able to win enough money to bail us out of debt. Of course I didn't, I lost."
Carol separated from her husband after 34 years of marriage and depression worsened.
Things became that bad for me I would lose my pension on the day I got it.Carol
"I felt I had lost everything that mattered to me. My marriage had gone, my ability to work and support myself was gone," she said.
"As I became more and more depressed I just didn't care. I didn't mix with other people at all, apart from walking into a pokies venue which you can do as an individual person and not speak to another person.
"I would go in there and all the lights and the sounds was all very alluring. I used to dissociate and take myself off to a place where I wasn't thinking about all the horrible things that were going on in my life and how bad my life had become.
"It was a very expensive fanciful time out. At that stage I only had my pension. Things became that bad for me I would lose my pension on the day I got it."
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Carol described the pokies as 'cruel', 'deceptive', 'hypnotic' and 'destructive'.
"The pokies are evil. I don't say that lightly," she said. "They deliberately target weaker people and people who have problems. If you walk into a pokies venue, look around - no one is having fun.
"I am of the belief that problem gambling is a lot greater than the government would have you believe, you only have to walk into a pokie venue and you can see that.
"You sit there and you put your money in and you just can't believe this machine is paying you nothing and that sooner or later surely it has got to pay. Of course it doesn't.
"You walk in the door not with the expectation of winning, but with the hope of holding your own and being able to have some time out and get your money back. That rarely happens and you walk away feeling absolutely terrible, really wretched about yourself and your life. It is a really sad cycle."
Carol said she had tried to stop going to the pokies many times throughout her life, but the support of her counsellor had helped focus on managing the addiction long-term.
My message to others is to seek help, because you can't do it by yourself.Carol
"Saniya is such a compassionate, understanding and caring person. I can be absolutely honest with her," she said.
"It is really hard to be honest when you are doing things you are not proud of. I had always been a well-respected self employed person. It is wonderful to be able to be open and honest with a counsellor and to be able to confide in them.
"My message to others is to seek help, because you can't do it by yourself. You might be able to stay away for a few weeks but sooner or later something will happen and the lure of the machines will get you in again.
"For me, the shame has gone now - that is a huge part of it and lightens your load. I hope this helps others to know there are other ways to feel good."
Carol now volunteers as a mentor for others suffering gambling addiction. She wants pokies venues to be shut down long-term and says it is ironic something so 'dangerous' is still legal.
Help is available
If you or someone you know needs gambling support, contact Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858.
Child and Family Services Ballarat financial counselling team can provide help. To access the free service, call 5337 3333 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mental health support is also available through Lifeline 13 11 14 or beyondblue 1300 22 4636
- Carol is used as a pseudonym to protect her identity