‘Poker machine poison: My mother’s gambling addiction left her broke’

Feb 24, 2020
Linda says her mother's addiction to poker machines left her unable to pay for basic necessities and there was no money left for her funeral when she died. Source: Getty Images

My mother came to live with us and kind of stayed for the next 25-plus years, we moved from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to South Australia and the poker machines were out of sight out of mind. When we lived in Alice Springs, Mum was at the pokies all the time going to the casino at least three times a week.

She only had her aged pension and was spending it in the casino each fortnight. So it was a relief that the move to South Australia seemed to stop her addiction. (She did go on trips over the border to Wentworth in New South Wales with a friend once or twice a year.)

However, when poker machines were introduced into the pubs in South Australia, my heart sank. I knew I couldn’t keep her away from them.

Her addiction started slowly but within two years, Mum was wasting her pension on the pokies every fortnight. My husband and I were buying her clothes, paying her car registration and buying her medication. She had no money at all and could not contribute to the home she lived in.

Every shopping day Mum would be in a different hotel pressing buttons and watching the flashing lights. We had four children and I tried hard to get her to help me with the shopping, but she was obsessed with the pokies and cared nothing for the family that she lived with. My mother tried hard to get me to play the pokies with her, but I had no interest.

As her addiction got worse it was as though Mum was another child being fully supported by us. She felt it was her right to do what she was doing and somehow figured I owed her for all the years she spent raising me. It was difficult too because her behaviour caused many arguments between my husband and I.

Each year my sister would pay for Mum to fly up to Port Douglas in Queensland to stay with her for a month. It was the only respite we had from her (and once we asked her to extend her stay so we could complete a bathroom renovation without too much hassle). She treated my sister the same and it wasn’t until after my mother’s death my sister and I got together and talked and realised we’d both been used.

Don’t get me wrong my mum was lovely as a person and people loved her too. She was a fantastic knitter and knitted for charity, though the wool was bought for her by me and my sister.

Mum needed to have her cataracts removed and it was $500 to get it done. She did not have the money so we paid to have it done for her. We spent the night at a hotel and all she wanted to do was go play the poker machines, which was one thing the doctor said she couldn’t do for a month. It was a very long month for me; she constantly nagged that she her sight was okay. The doctor took Mum’s driver’s licence away, which we were grateful for because it made it harder for her to go and gamble.

My mother developed cancer and required critical surgery to have it removed. She was infirm for a month, with skin grafts and diabetes obstacles in her recovery.

During all of this convalescing the only thing she could ever think about was how she couldn’t get to the pokies. She was worried someone would be on her ‘favourite machine’.

We travelled north for my sister’s birthday and while we were out to dinner we noticed something wasn’t quite right with Mum. She couldn’t remember how to remove the money from the poker machine. The following day she seemed okay, but this changed dramatically when we returned home.

We learned that the cancer had spread and was now in her brain. She passed quickly. Because of her gambling, she had no money for a funeral so my sister and I paid for it together.

To this day I despise poker machines. I wish they would be removed from pubs and clubs and that the only place anyone can play them is in a casino.

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What are your thoughts on poker machines? Have you ever played one?

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