As we begin our journey to a 'new normal', those hurt by gambling are rightly asking why poker machines are still allowed within Victorian shopping centres?
Lived experience advocate Carolyn Crawford gambled at one such pernicious venue inside Waverley Gardens. Located on the lower floor near Coles, she asks, 'surely I should be able to buy groceries without the flashing lights of a self-described "vegas" in my face?' Carolyn writes:
How easy they made it for me to lose my money. And I could do my shopping as well, provided I hadn’t lost all of it in the pokies!
The shopping centre made it easy to fall even further into debt. It's situated so close to the freeway, all I had to do was to diverge off and within a couple of turns I was parked and heading in. They made it even better by providing undercover parking so I didn’t get wet in the rain.
Two entrances meant I could either enter via stairs from the carpark or I could go inside and enter directly from the shopping centre. The only inconvenience I felt was wasting time signing in.
I had this brilliant idea that I would go shopping after I gambled because I would have lots of money to buy extra food and maybe even new clothes or shoes.
In the beginning, I believed this was possible and I had a couple of wins where I had to take a cheque instead of cash. I felt on top of the world when this happened and put the cheque in the bank. How great it was to see some money in my account.
Well, this feeling never lasted long, the minute the cheque cleared I was back at any venue and end up walking out with nothing. No new clothes and only cheap groceries. I would have loved to be able to buy a nice meal, but the gambling came first.
I'd quite often just go without dinner altogether.
I remember once I had over $1,500 in the machine but kept using hoping to have more wins and go home with a big cheque. I wasted over $500 hoping to have another win and then when it was under $1,000 pulled it out and got the cash, only to put it into another machine and end up walking out with nothing.
But it was not only me that did this. I saw many others do the same thing and I would think to myself how stupid they were. I told myself 'I am only doing this for entertainment' and 'I can stop anytime I want'.
I was only telling myself lies.
These lies consumed my life until I eventually got caught stealing money from my employer and was sentenced to prison for 18 months. I was 64 at the time. I paid back every cent and am now pokies free - I have been since 2016 and proud that I have achieved my freedom from these dreaded machines.
I will never put another dollar into any form of gambling, but I want Hawthorn Football Club to know just how much pain and hurt these machines have caused.
It's not right that they are normalised in our shopping centres and around our kids. Surely I should be able to buy groceries without the flashing lights of a self-described "vegas" in my face?
Vegas at Waverley Gardens is owned and operated by one of Australia's largest "family" football clubs, Hawthorn FC. It also happens to be within the electorate of Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews. This venue extracted $7.3 million from the community last financial year. Time to say no more!