My pokies addiction put me in jail

Brave Carolyn speaks out about her gambling battle

Carolyn had no idea her habit was spiralling out of control.

Here, Carolyn Crawford, 68, from Victoria, shares the story in her own words.

As I brushed my hair and picked out an outfit, I felt a shiver of excitement and nerves.

I was starting a new job for a small electrical company as an account manager and personal assistant.

The last few years had been tough. My two sons had grown up and moved out, and as I was single, I felt incredibly lonely.

Work proved a great distraction. Apart from my boss, I was the only other person in the office so we became good friends.

One night, we went out to dinner, then afterwards we decided to play the pokies.

‘You never win on these machines,’ I said, but I thought it would be fun.

Seeing the bright lights and spinning images, I felt a buzz. A few days later, I played again.

Soon, I was going every couple of days.

Then, one weekend, I found myself alone and immediately I thought of
the pokies.

Before I knew it, I was in the pub, pressing the buttons, waiting in anticipation for a win.

From there, it was a slippery slope.

Most of my weekends were spent at the pokies. After 18 months, I was playing every day after work.

Lonely at home, I saw pokies as a way to get out.

But even though there were other regular players like me, I didn’t speak to them. Transfixed by the machines, it was like I was in a vegetative state.

Seven hours would pass, but I had no concept of time.

I can stop any time, I convinced myself.

In reality, I was addicted.

Every morning, my first thought was, I can’t wait to play the pokies tonight.

And if my dad or sons called when I was playing, I’d lie, saying I was out for dinner or at the shops.

My habit was becoming a huge strain on my bank balance too.

Even if I had a few big wins, it went straight back into my next game.

Four years after I started playing, I decided to transfer some of the company’s money to my account.

I’ll pay it back when I win, I told myself.

(Credit: Getty)

But then I didn’t win and it became a vicious cycle.

I’d make fake bills from companies we’d used before, then transfer the money over to my account.

Even when our books were audited, it wasn’t picked up.

I had no idea how much I was taking.

Pokies were consuming me.

Then, in 2015, my boss’s daughter-in-law started working in the office.

I knew that if I stopped stealing, I’d get away with it.

But I just couldn’t.

Eight months later, my boss called me into his office.

‘I wanted to ask you about a withdrawal from the account,’ he said.

Heart hammering in my chest, I said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘You’re lying,’ he said.

His daughter-in-law had gone through the books and found discrepancies.

‘I took the money for gambling,’ I said, breaking down in tears. ‘I’ll pay it all back.’

‘Leave,’ he said.

Hysterical, I went home.

I knew I had to tell my sons, my family and friends, and I admitted everything.

‘We’re here for you,’ they reassured me.

I didn’t dare go near a pokie machine after that.

Then, a few weeks later, the police phoned and asked me to visit the station.

They told me I’d stolen $400,000 over seven years.

‘What?’ I gasped, in shock at the sum.

Counselling helped me (Credit: Getty)

I didn’t even know how much I’d spent of my own money on top of that.

Charged with obtaining money from my employer by deception, I felt embarrassed and devastated.

In April 2016, I appeared at Melbourne County Court and pleaded guilty.

I was sentenced to 18 months in jail and a two-year corrections order, stating I had to attend counselling.

It was terrifying.

I hadn’t even got a parking ticket before and now I was going to prison.

After two weeks in a Melbourne jail, I was transferred to a prison farm.

I attended a support group with other women like me.

One had lost $7 million through internet gambling.

And a lot of them cited loneliness as the reason.

Counselling helped me realise that pokies were as addictive as alcohol or drugs.

After my release, my counsellor accompanied me to a pokies venue.

At first, I was unable to breathe and had to rush out.

It took many attempts until I could deal with seeing them.

Now, I can walk past any pokies without a problem.

I also applied for an early release of my super. Between that and an inheritance I received when my dad passed away, I have paid every dollar back to my former boss.

I now work with gambling support groups and no longer feel lonely. I also knit toys, which helps me to relax.

Gambling is highly addictive and it can happen to anyone. It is no excuse for breaking the law, but I want to help others.

If anyone thinks they might have an addiction, I urge you to get support.

It’s not something you can battle on your own, but I’m a survivor and I’m proof there’s light on the other side. ●

For support 24/7, contact Gambling Help Online on 1800 858 858 (Aus) or
0800 654 655 (NZ).

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