Here, Shonica Guy, 42, tells the story in her own words.
￼Eyes fixed on the road, I felt for my favourite necklace. It’s gone! I fretted, spinning the car around and racing home.
Heart thumping, I was desperate to have a flutter on the pokies. But I had zero chance of winning big without my lucky dragon charm!
At 21, it had been four years since a boyfriend and I had a go on the pokies. We’d broken it off just months later. And that suited me fine. I’d found a new love interest – the pokies – and I was completely captivated.
Working part-time at a food court, I’d gamble before and after my shift. I’d even pop out for a punt on my lunch break. Hypnotised by each ka-ching, I happily fed every dollar I had into the hungry machines. It’s just a bit of harmless fun, I thought.
Still, I didn’t dare tell a soul what I got up to in my spare time. Pushing friends and family away, I couldn’t let anyone get too close in case they came between me and the pokies.
Sorry, my car’s broken down, I’d text loved ones, wheedling my way out of plans. Truth was, I was living a double life.
I’ll stop at $50, I’d convince myself, even though I’d always have at least $200 on me. But, as soon as the catchy music began, I was like a zombie. Totally entranced, the outside world melted away and my early twenties dissolved in a blur of flashing lights.
Then, when I was 25, I realised I couldn’t afford to pay my bills. I applied to access some of my super due to financial hardship, but when I got the $1200 cash injection, I went straight to a hotel.
Maybe I can double it, I thought. Terrifyingly, within an hour, I’d nearly spent the lot. As the last few coins rattled in my cup, I felt bile rise in my throat. Walking out with an empty wallet, I was disgusted with myself.
Still, I kept it up for another four years. Running out of cash again, I asked my mum, Leeanne, for a loan. For some reason though, I couldn’t bear to tell her the real reason why. ‘I spent it on drugs,’ I lied. ‘Shonica, you need help,’ she said. So, I promised her that I’d get ‘clean’.
Now, every coin I lost on the machine filled me with guilt. ‘Mum, you’ve got to take my money away,’ I pleaded a few months later. ‘I can’t be trusted with it.’ ‘Is it the drugs again?’ my worried mum asked. ‘It never was,’ I admitted. ‘It’s the pokies.’
So, Mum took over my finances, giving me just enough each week to cover bills and food. I lasted a week, before I started borrowing money from mates.
For two years, I kept up the charade. Then, one night, I lost $500 in record time. ‘I can’t live like this,’ I sobbed down the phone to Pokies Anonymous.
Now 31, I’d been addicted for 14 years. Beginning a recovery program, I didn’t go near a poker machine for more than three months. Then I admitted my deceit to Mum. ‘I need to tell you the truth – I’ve only just stopped gambling,’ I told her.
Now that I’d let Mum back in, we spoke all the time. ‘Half my life is gone! Why would someone do that and not wake up to themselves?’ I exclaimed to her. I need to work out why, I decided.
Researching online, I discovered poker machines were intentionally designed to make people splurge. My favourite games made losses seem like ‘near misses’ and that a payout was just around the corner. And while I’d fibbed about being a drug addict, playing the pokies released the same feel-good chemicals as a hit of cocaine.
I wanted to make others aware. So, six years into my recovery, I decided to take one of Australia’s largest gaming groups, Crown Resorts, and Aristocrat Leisure – the manufacturer of my favourite poker machine, Dolphin Treasure – to court for being unlawfully deceptive and fuelling addictive behaviour.mI wanted Crown Resorts banned from operating Dolphin Treasure or any similar machines. It was the first case of its kind in Australia.
I wasn’t after money, and a law firm agreed to represent me on a pro bono basis. I was doing it to protect others like me.
Sadly, after a three-week hearing in the Federal Court last September, Justice Debra Mortimer ruled against me this February, clearing them of any wrongdoing. However, she noted that her judgement should not detract from the issues I’d raised.
More research into the ‘possible relationship’ between pokies and gambling addiction was also needed, she said. Standing outside court, I felt proud of myself. ‘I hope that this can lead to a better way forward so that others don’t have to go through what I did,’ I told the media.
Now, I’m a volunteer coordinator at Pokies Anonymous and Gambling Link, and also a proud mum to, Izaya, five. Call it what you will – a flutter, a punt, a harmless game – but you never play the pokies, they play you.
I promise, if you’re struggling, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I found my way and so can you.
Read more in this week's issue of that's life, on sale now.