Concerns With Playing The Pokies
An area that seems to be rarely discussed as a major concern is one particular style of gambling here in Australia. That being playing the Pokies (or Poker machines).
So many features talk about Gambling in general, but I want to home into one area here: The Pokies.
For some the odd $10 here or there when visiting the local pub is viewed as “harmless” or “a bit of fun” and that may well be the case. But for others, playing the Pokies can become way more than “having fun”.
Machines that advertise 100 spins for $1 can also allow for up to $5-$10 per spin (state determined) and the temptation to bet higher amounts is often hard to resist as one either tries to chase lost money, or be attracted to the higher Jackpot amounts that larger bets open up.
I am not here to write about all the obvious reasons why Poker machines can be dangerous. No, I am here to write about the misunderstanding some people have when their partner or family member is found to have a problem with these machines. Or to try to relate to those that are traveling through their own issues with Poker machine by themselves.
My intention is simply to try to expose the difficulties faced for some who cross the invisible line. It is not intended to excuse the behavior, but to attempt to shed some light as to the pains one may go through when dealing solo with a problem relating to this form of gambling.
What Does Typical Poker Machine Venue Look Like?
Let’s look at a typical Poker machine venue and what it could look like should a video recorder be placed behind one’s eyes;
Inviting – Soft lighting, uplifting music, free drinks (some venues will congratulate your win with a “on the house” beer/drink)
Free food/snacks/spring rolls/cake.
Smoking areas in “open air” Poker rooms (state dependent)
Private bar to allow ordering of drinks away from the busy main bar (or maybe you can order your drinks without leaving your chair).
Air conditioned rooms for those hot summer months.
Not many rooms have natural light or windows. Instead lush velvet curtains and ambient lighting allow the feeling of being in a magical secret palace.
Sounds Like A Wonderful Den Right?
And there they are, all lined up, twinkling hypnotic lights, big dollar signs displaying 4 figure Jackpots, themed machines featuring characters holding gold nuggets, seductive female superheroes winking at you. Or maybe Characters that seem to take us to a childlike fantasy of make believe. It’s like a wonderland for the adult imagination (or so it seems).
Add to the mix the music that pipe from these money jukeboxes. Happy cheerful sounds. Maybe a delighted ringtone each time the slot pulls in a $50 note at an impressive speed.
Finish the icing with comfortable decedent furniture, state-of-the-art LED screens and high definition graphics (that rival any top quality video game) and you have a pretty stunning set.
Every now and then a bell rings. The natural instinct is to turn in the direction of the sound. Someone has the feature! Someone is winning money! That someone could be me next!
Maybe you hear the familiar Jackpot chorus. A chorus that you can hear in your sleep at night. One just like a catchy pop song, sticks in your head and embeds itself in the sound bank of your memory. They remind you of the circus you used to visit when you were a child. Oh how wonderful.
Someone has one big! Someone is tapping their favourite machine! That someone could be me next! I want it!
Remembering That Big Win
Maybe you cast your mind back to that big win you had a few years ago. You remember it very well and all memory in-between that big win and right here and now are, for this moment, irrelevant.
Next up is a sip from your favourite drink (“this one’s on me” you remember the bar staff saying. How important you feel) Chances are that the drink of choice is Alcoholic.
You like the song that is playing in the background. You might even sing along in your mind.
And into the game you go. The room disappears and it’s just you and the machine. The world becomes you and the machine. Money becomes just a piece of paper that activates the happy chirp sound from the machine and allows the reels to spin.
Consciously or sub-consciously every spin gives a tiny trigger of excitement. Anticipation for the free spins feature is never far from mind. You just need 3 symbols.
Often the symbols will show two on the win line and the third just visible above. Your heart skips a beat. “Nearly had it” “It’s coming, I can feel it”………
The person on the machine near you breaks your trance as they clap their hands symbolizing a win. Someone has the feature! Someone is winning money! That someone could be me next!
Another bell rings over the other side of the room. “I knew Tuesdays are a good day for coming to this venue”
Returning your gaze back to your machine, you crave for the next hand clap to be coming from your world. But you know if the bell rings on your machine, you won’t hand clap. It’s not your style. You’re too busy waiting to find out what you will win. Too busy to see if the win will set you free of worry about how much you have put in already.
Following a few minor wins (minor meaning that the machine gives you a happy fanfare of music and proudly displays a win. Often the win can be less than the actual bet size, sometimes a little more. But it still sings a happy song just for you irrelevant). “Oh well the win is not as much as the bet, but it’s a win and will allow some funds to get closer to the big win” you hear yourself say.
Then comes along a decent win. “I knew it” “See I know this is a machine that pays” “It was the way I touched the button that triggered the win” “the machine knows me/likes me” “I can always rely on this machine”
What do you do now? Stay on the same machine or switch to another?
And so the journey continues……
Should you leave now while you are up? Can you win more? Are you on a streak? Are you happy to “cut your loses” and exit? Do you need just another similar win and your out of there?
Likely chance is that you will continue (and if not today, it will be another day)……
Funds Are Low. Crossing the line
The win felt good but you need another now. Funds are low (and so is your drink). “Must find the reserve sign as no-one can touch your machine”
Heading to the bar you know where the cash machine is. Or if this venue is new to you, you just have to look for a discreet wall, hidden from normal view. Or head to the toilets, there’s often an ATM near there. You know it’s never in the Pokie room – that would not be right hey! The ATM machine is almost like a dirty little secret machine hidden away from the mighty giants of the Poker room.
Its only $2.95 to withdraw (“that’s only like 1 spin” you say to yourself) $50. “Might as well make it a $100 as I will save $2.95 if I don’t win on the first $50 and need to come back. Actually make $150 but I won’t put all that in.…..”
The drink this time is not free but you pay by card so avoid breaking up the machines $50s. Don’t want shrapnel in your pocket, the machines don’t like coins anymore. They even give you tickets back instead of cash- how convenient. The bar person does not appear to be so friendly this time. That’s strange considering the money they have made from me so far.
The journey back to your machine allows you time to find all the reasons why it’s OK to just lose another $100. In addition you find it very easy to convince yourself that there is the chance that actually you will get your money back. Maybe you will even be up? You are convinced that the extra $50 you took out will not be part of the gamble. You even put it in another pocket. Elements of guilt maybe creeping in, but the power of the chance, for this moment supersedes any guilt.
Are we still in the pleasure zone?
The happy music piping through the discreet speakers somehow now sounds a little irritating “I don’t like this song”
The player on the other machine annoys you a little. “Why are they so loud” “Bet they are a fake customer employed to look like they are winning”
It’s at this point that our videotape stops recording. It’s at this point that for some, the illness (yes it is an illness for some*) has taken its next hold and any false belief of fun has been replaced with fear, anxiety, worthlessness and stress.
Relieved – “I am lucky I got $100 back so only lost $100 in the end”
Convincing ourselves that is OK to go through all that stress to walk away with a loss that could have been bigger. Allowing ourselves to believe that the investment was worth the “Fun” that we had.
Depressed – “I can’t believe I just did that” “What am I going to do” How am I going to explain or hide that?”
The walk of shame through the pub (but of course you keep you head up high and say goodbye in a cherry manner. The bar person hardly looks up). The walk to the car or the Uber is long. You don’t notice the blue sky and pure sunlight.
Feelings of anxiety, shame, guilt and hopelessness are very common following a loss on the Pokies. Can we share these feelings with those that we are close to? For many people they feel like they cannot, for fear of the consequences. Fear of uncovering a behavior that they are not proud of. So what do we do with all this emotion? For many it’s bottled up and buried somewhere inside. For some, keeping a secret is an art they have mastered.
But there is help. There is support. There is the ability for change
Happy but not – “I am up” That’s great” “I have all these notes in my pocket” “I am not going to play them for a while now and I am going to buy that gadget I have had my eye on”
What are we doing here? We have concerns right? Concerns that this win will be back in the machines before we can even celebrate? We feel the need to spend the money as fast as possible to stop the urge to play again.
Can we even share this win with those that we are close to?
For many people, the energy they use to cover up their feelings guilt and shame requires most of their reserves. It is very common to turn to Alcohol to try to blot out such feelings, but we know that’s not the answer. In my next blog I will talk about the relationship of Alcohol and playing the Pokies.
A restless night is often what follows a loss and it is not uncommon for the person to try in all vain to win back the loss, the very next day.
And so the spiral continues…but remember there are ways to make change by seeking support. This spiral can stop.
Covid-19. The Pokies Are Closed
I am not creating this blog in an attempt to re-write the rule books and have Pokies banned from venues (it would be dream come true if they were!), but on that note I do want to reflect back on the past 6 months during the inital outbreak of Covid-19 where we saw all Pokie rooms (and 194,000 Poker Machines in Australia) closed for periods of time.
I have spoken to a number of people that were relieved and in fact hoped that they would never open again.
For some people battling poker machine addiction turned to other forms of Gambling (the Sydney Morning Herald reported in June that search request for the term “online casino Australia real money” jumped almost 540% in April during the first period of lockdown.
This further strengthens my belief that this form of gambling can be, for some, an illness as opposed to simply being irresponsible.
But what about all those people that resisted the temptation to seek other forms of gambling during lock down?
Many turned their attention to other activities. The CBA reported in May (VIA ABC News) that spending on household furniture and equipment was up by 53%. Perhaps some of this spend came from those that may have otherwise played the Pokies?
Again, many people have shared their stories with me and detail how they turned their attention away from daily visits to the Pokies and toward other more healthy activities. Many report that even now that the Poker rooms are open again, they have kept away.
This proves that regardless of illness or no illness, change is possible and as long as you have a desire to make change, I am here to help support, motivate and generate such change.
I would like to encourage anyone that reads and relates to this story, to reach out and say hello to me. I offer a complimentary consultation phone or zoom meeting prior to any formal sessions.
For further information click here.
Where is the misunderstanding?
Misunderstanding from partners / family members tends to lend itself to the lack of awareness of just how powerful and addictive Pokie machines can be for individuals.
Many people can relate to addiction to drugs or alcohol but gambling is often frowned upon and not viewed in the same light. But it needs to be.
It’s easy to view the person as being selfish, irresponsible or uncaring. I understand how one would be angry and confused. But I would encourage a pause to try and understand the hurt that the person with the problem is feeling.
The journey above merely gives an example of how powerful and easy it is to cross the line into the addiction of Poker machines.
Counselling for Gambling concerns can include partners and family members of the person concerned and this can provide help for those that find it difficult to be open about their problem. It can also help explore ways for partners and family members find understanding and ways to support the person who is seeking change for the better.
Misunderstanding for the individual can often be generated by “self-convincing” that there is not a problem, trying to tackle the problem on their own or by letting fear, embarrassment or guilt prevent them from reaching out for support.
Counselling is an excellent start to making the desired change.
Written by Mark Colwill (Founder of Colwill Counselling) Brisbane October 2020
One to one and family sessions available to tackle the concerns of Pokie addiction click here
Learn how to walk away from the Pokies with Colwill Counselling