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Uncle Daryl Smith's story

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Uncle Daryl Smith, photo: James Henry

It’s never too late to give up gambling's story

by Uncle Daryl Smith

I’m a youth outreach worker with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. I do a bit of everything. Sometimes, when you’ve been through hard times, you can pass on a bit of knowledge to other people. If I can help keep kids out of trouble – including with gambling – I’m happy.

The first time I tried pokies in the local pub, I won – pretty big, a couple of hundred bucks. I thought, ‘This is mine! How easy is this?’ After that night, I couldn’t wait to get back and play them.

You think you know your limits, but there’s something about gambling that just grabs hold of you. The lights, the music, the colours – they’re hypnotising. And the next button you press is going to be the big one. The only time you leave is when you’ve got no money left.

The pressure builds

It’s like graduating: you start off in the local pubs, then you go to the bigger pubs, and then you go to the big one: the casino. You’re thinking, ‘Gee, if I win big, I can give my family some money. They can buy clothes, buy this and that. Maybe a car.’ But that never happens. It’s degrading, walking out of a venue with no money.

I felt worthless, not even good enough to talk to people. And gambling itself makes you antisocial. I remember one time playing the pokies, I was so into it, one of my mates sat next to me and I didn’t even talk to him. You just want to be alone.

The next button you press is going to be the big one. The only time you leave is when you’ve got no money left.

I had a good job with The Age newspaper. My responsibility was getting the newspapers bundled and out to the truck drivers going to the newsagents. This included shift work. I’d call into a couple of venues on the way home, at five or six in the morning. You’re wide awake and you want to do something. At work on Mondays, I’d tell them how much I’d lost at the pokies. And then it got to the point where I didn’t tell them. ‘Hey Daz, how much did you lose on the weekend?’ I wouldn’t say.

It felt like there was no way out, but that if I didn’t do something, I’d lose everything. Lose my house. My kids wouldn’t want to know me.

I tell my story and feel instant relief

Years ago, I went to Alcoholics Anonymous, so when someone told me about Gamblers Anonymous, I rang them up. As soon as I walked into my first meeting, I felt relief. We sat around talking and when I got up and told my story, a load lifted from my chest. Gee, it felt good.

Gamblers Anonymous gave me confidence to speak up and let family and friends know what was going on with me. Everyone was supportive.

I also learnt tips at Gamblers Anonymous, including: if you drive past a venue on the way home from work, take another route, even up side streets. Don’t go past venues or pubs with pokies: ‘Come in for a free meal!’ Don’t even look at them.

When you’re giving up gambling, the important thing is to hang in there.

After going to Gamblers Anonymous for a couple of months, I thought I’d kicked the habit. But I hadn’t. I’d go to a hotel and, if I got bored, I’d just go into the gaming room to have a look, not to play. But then I’d only play five bucks. Then $10, then $20, then $100. With Alcoholics Anonymous, the worst drink to have is the first drink. With gambling, the worst bet to have is the first bet.

There’s no quick fix with giving up gambling.

Getting better and better

Someone said to me, ‘If you put that money into a Christmas Club account, just imagine how much you’d have at the end of the year.’ And I thought, ‘100 bucks a week – that’s five grand!’

I started taking up different interests. I became a soldier in the Salvation Army, I did ballroom dancing, including a bit of competition, I joined the CFA (Country Fire Authority). I enjoyed it all, and still do. I go to the gym and try to look after myself and keep active. I always make sure I’m available for my grandkids.

When you’re giving up gambling, the important thing is to hang in there. It’s never too late to give up. If you stop for a while, and then gamble again, have another go at giving up. Keep doing it. You’ll get better and better.