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.
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).