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Korina's story

Korina Waitai (right) with counsellor Margaret Ryniker

Korina Waitai (right) with counsellor Margaret Ryniker

Ko Te Haerenga Ki Te Whakaoranga – the journey of recovery

by Andrée Froude

‘Gambling took over my life: mentally, spiritually, physically and financially.’

Korina Waitai, 54, believes it was winning the jackpot that triggered her 10-year battle with a crippling and life-changing gambling problem.

‘It was an $800 jackpot I won, which, at the time, was probably the highest you could win,’ she says.

From then on, her focus became winning that elusive jackpot again: even endangering her own life racing between gambling venues in her car. Looking back, she is so grateful she didn’t have a car accident.

Korina lives in Whanganui, a city on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island and home to approximately 43,000 people. In Whanganui there are 14 venues with 208 poker machines. For a city that size, Korina questions why there are so many.

Broken hopes and dreams

Recovering from alcoholism, Korina knew the signs of addiction. But gambling became an easily hidden way to escape: a place to get away from the world.

‘The kids were at school and the hotels and bars were open early, so that’s where we would go, and we would sit there until the kids finished school,’ she says.

‘I used to think what a waste of money gambling was and how unsociable they were. But when I gave up drinking, then it was like I may as well hop on the machines. Maybe I might win the jackpot.’

‘I went from a dry drunk to getting addicted to the machines.’

‘Gambling took over my life: mentally, spiritually, physically and financially.’ - Korina Waitai

‘I felt hopeless and broken. That’s when I started suppressing it … when I couldn’t cope with it anymore. The shame that I had and the lies I told,’ she says.

‘The kids never went hungry. I bought petrol vouchers and a gift card for the supermarket and I would make sure the shopping was done in the morning. The $100 that was left was for gambling, but I would walk out of there with either $40 or nothing.’

Korina soon started borrowing money and says she would ‘live at Cash Converters’.

‘I couldn’t trust myself … I knew that when I put that first two dollars in, that was it,’ she says.

A wahine toa – a strong woman

The turning point for Korina was when her son discovered all the money gone from his bank account because she had taken it to gamble.

Korina says she was sick of lying, so she said a prayer and rang the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand.

She got an appointment to meet Margaret Ryniker, a counsellor and health promoter for the foundation.

‘I was so grateful to have someone to actually listen and believe in me,’ Korina says.

‘Margaret doesn't judge. When I came in, I had this awful shame. Now I haven't got that. I'm a wahine toa, a strong woman.

‘I’m so grateful for the day I made that phone call – if I hadn’t made that call I don’t know where I would have ended up.’

Reconciliation with her friends was a big thing for Korina, but she says they were glad she got help.

‘They knew something was wrong, but they didn’t know what. I changed and I might have fooled some people but I don’t think I fooled them. They love me and have always been there for me.’

Korina’s message for others

‘I don’t ever want anyone to experience where I went: spiritually, mentally and physically, it took me out. The best thing I can suggest is to get help.

'There should have been posters on the wall in the toilets – if I’d seen those [Helpline] numbers it would have helped. Sometimes I’d be crying and hiding in the bathroom. I’d spent the bill money, and if I’d seen those posters there, I could identify with that – I really do need help.

'I’m excluded from every venue in Whanganui. I never want to go back to that again.’

Korina called the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand on 0800 664 262. It’s free and confidential.

If you are in Australia and experiencing problems with gambling or are affected by someone else’s gambling, call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858. Find out more about getting help.