There is a phenomenon where people who lose a leg can still feel it. It’s call the phantom leg. The mind is telling you it is still there, when it is not. Addiction is similar..the mind tells you you are in control, where in fact, the way things are, you are not.
“My name’s John and I’m a compulsive gambler…” I looked out at sea of faces. It was my first Gamblers Anonymous meeting, and this was large one, about 50 people. They had gathered to ‘celebrate’ some occasion so there were people from many other GA groups. 99% were there because of a poker machine ‘addiction’.
At this time I was an ‘inmate’ of a rehabilitation unit. I had been there a week, and, as part of the program had to attend the meeting.
After I had ‘told my story’ and listened to others I thought “How in the hell did I end up in this situation?” “What brought me to the stage where I chose to enter a rehabilitation hospital?”
“What the hell was wrong with me?”
It was a Wednesday, in June 1999, that I took myself to the local GP. I had reached ‘rock bottom’. I just couldn’t live with myself any longer.
For years I had ‘enjoyed’ in playing poker machines. Mostly it was with friends but increasingly became a solitary endeavour. I had lost thousands. Spent a $5000 work bonus in 2 days. I had become a liar and a thief. As a person, was the complete antithesis of all that I knew was right.
So, after seeing the GP and making my ‘reservation’ at the clinic I went to the local club and spent whatever money I had available and ‘checked in’ on the Friday.
So, back to the meeting. For the first time I was with people who had ‘been there, done that’. who understood the misery of a gambling addiction. Some had experienced worse, some not so. But generally the stories all contained a common theme – the slow, sometimes rapid descent to a place, an unimaginable hell, where death seems a good option.
For the gambling addict, particularly those in the final stages, there becomes this overwhelming need to punish yourself. You know you’re not going to ‘win’ (although that hope lies at the back of the mind), but you also know if you do ‘win’ you’ll be back again… to lose. I used to go to the club/pub, but would always leave the majority of the cash I had available in the car. A deluded sense of self control. Of course there would be a number of trips back to the car…and then the nearest ATM…and when the money ran out, the hatred of self for what I had done…often waking at 3am, sick in the stomach, wondering if the craziness will ever end.
Well it did end for me. But I know for others, the craziness and misery is either beginning or continuing.
I was a poker machine player for 30 years before I reached my nadir. Mostly in that time I was under some ‘control’. At times I would go months without playing, and in the days of single feed machines, although it was possible, you need a lot of time to do damage. I will say, with the advent of multi-line and note accepting machines losing lots of money became a whole lot easier!
The suggestion that voluntary pre-commitment will work is wrong. When I was ‘in action’ I wouldn’t have wanted to take such action…in fact I would have resented the suggested intrusion. You see I always thought I was in control. I see things more clearly now.
Mandatory commitment won’t work because, if you have an addiction there is ALWAYS a way around the law.
To my mind, this is an issue that can never be completely resolved. RBT won’t stop some people from drink/driving but it certainly had an impact on the number of road deaths. Everyone hated the restriction being placed on them. Clubs and pubs cried foul at the potential loss of revenue, but hey, it has ‘saved’ a lot lives, and clubs and pubs still exist. And we tend to accept it now.
So I suppose it’s down to harm minimization. I would suggest:
- Maximum single cash feed of $50 (this will also impede money laundering, which is rife in clubs and casinos) You can put another $50 in only when you’ve lost the first.
- A limit of $1 per bet with ‘jackpots’ adjusted accordingly.
- Remove linked ‘jackpots’ , they are the ‘impossible’ dream
- Remove all ‘features’ and restrict line plays to three.
You’ll still be able to lose heaps but it will take a lot longer. Will the club and pubs lose? Maybe a little. Will it help problem gamblers? It will limit the damage, and like RBT, even save some lives.
This was written in November 2011. I held it back hoping that some government action might be taken in the meantime. It seems those with the power of money prevail.