Honour Blake* (32) sought help for her gambling addiction in June. Since then, she has relapsed three times, but wants to tell her story in order to warn others about how easy it is to get hooked on pokie machines.
"I never thought I was the sort of person who could steal to pay for an addiction or even someone who would have an addiction. I was brought up a strict Christian. My Samoan parents immigrated to New Zealand before I was born and church was a must every Sunday.
At the age of 21, I was introduced to pokie machines by my mother. I never realised what a thrill they would give me. At first I didn't like placing money in the slots because I thought it was a waste, but then I kept going back and soon I was hooked. I loved the sound of the winnings and the free spins. In my mind there was always a chance of winning big.
I was working at a fast-food restaurant at the time and I'm ashamed to admit that I stole from the store to go gambling. I would always pay back the money I stole the following week so I never got caught, but it was only a matter of time before someone would notice.
I would steal $100, but then I placed the money back in. I was able to cover my tracks and I resigned before anyone suspected. But I felt so guilty. Each time I thought I would stop after just one more lucky break, but I needed help to get back on the right track.
Instead, I kept gambling and sought love in all the wrong places. I ended up getting pregnant and, in my culture, I had placed shame on my family because I wasn't married. When I told the father of my baby that I was pregnant he dropped a bombshell – he was married with three children.
I was completely devastated. He has had nothing to do with my son, who's now four years old. I decided a fresh start in Melbourne with my baby would help, but there were even more opportunities to gamble at RSLs over there. There were also taverns with bistros attached where you could have a family dinner and nip over to the pokies at the tavern.
I was still working, but because I was obliged to send some of my wages to family in Samoa, I was resentful and I used that as an excuse to justify my gambling – that it was timeout for myself.
I returned to New Zealand in 2010. Even though I couldn't find a job, I was still able to gamble on the benefit. In the end, I had no money left to support my addiction. It was when I became suicidal that I finally sought help.
I rang the Mapu Maia helpline, the Pasifika branch of the Gambling Foundation, which is supported by the Tindall and Catholic Caring Foundations. They have helped my mother and I through our addictions which is why I wanted to share my story.
I'm now having weekly counselling and am in the process of getting my life back with more self-control. I've had three relapses since I sought help so I wouldn't say that I'm cured, but I now have coping strategies to help.
Writing my thoughts down helps a lot. When I have urges, I write a list of priorities for spending money. Looking back, I know that I lost far more money than I won. I would get loans and overdrafts to support my addiction. My biggest win was $4000 and the most I ever gambled in one go was $2000, which was an annual leave payment I got when I left the fast-food restaurant.
I only won a couple of hundred dollars in that session, but that just all went back into the machine. It's like the greed kicks in and nothing else matters – just you and the machine. It got to the point where I was rubbing the machine. I would say hello and goodbye to it and was even idolising it. I now believe it was the devil himself.
If people ask me what to do if they suspect someone is gambling too much, my advice is not to tell other people, but to talk to the person concerned first. It's up to the individual to make the decision to stop, but you can still be supportive.
I'm $2500 in debt, which is a lot for someone who is unemployed, but it’s better than the $10,000 I once owed. I wish I could say the urge to gamble is gone for good, but I can't. I know that I can never work in retail or in a place where I have access to money again.
Instead, I want to put my energy into studying and hopefully help others through their addiction. Most of all, I want a life for me and my son."
Read the signs
The Gambling Foundation says Honour’s story is mild compared to some gamblers whose addictions have cost them their homes, families and millions of dollars. Signs that you or someone you know might have a gambling problem include:
- Making excuses or lying to cover up gambling
- Feeling guilty or worried about gambling
- You or your family going without because the money has been spent on gambling
- Trying to gamble to win back losses
- Losing interest in friends, family or other activities
- Borrowing or stealing money to gamble
To seek help, call the free Gambling Helpline on 0800 654 655.
As told to Vicky Tyler
*Not her real name