I will never understand gambling addiction. I get why people drink, or smoke, or just do some things they know to be bad for them. We all have vices. But I will never understand why people gamble. Some say that it can be done in such a way where you’re guaranteed success and can rig the system. If that’s true, why isn’t everyone doing it? Maybe the gamblers are the smart ones and for those of us who choose not to engage, we are being left behind.
I was intrigued by the many sorry souls who came into the bar I worked to put some on the pokies, or on the dogs, or on the horses. We had our regulars; guys whose story we came to know. I even got so good that I would remember their exact order every time they edged closer to the bar and had their drinks waiting for them. They seemed to like that.
When I first began I would always be curious as to why they came in here time and time again, during times of the day traditionally reserved for work, or rest, or family. My co-workers’ answer would usually be one of tragedy:
“Smithy’s wife just left him.”
“Daveo’s on a disability pension”.
Sometimes the answers were more straightforward:
“Craig is an alcoholic.”
“Steve just can’t stop putting pineapples through the pokies.”
The latter of those addictions baffled me.
Steve lost many times, if not every time. If he did win big, the win was shadowed by his many defeats. I came to hate what gambling addiction did to people and actively refused to be the one to process those bets.
“If we can cut them off for being too drunk, why can’t we cut them off from losing all their money?”
“Because if you do that, you might be the one that stops them from their big win.”
So that’s what they were looking for? One big, winner-takes-all, victory. The good to erase all that had gone wrong.
But there was something about those men. Or, something not about those men. It wasn’t that the day would never come when they finally hit their jackpot. It’s that if such a day did come, I knew for certain – and they on the other side of the bar knew, deep within themselves, for certain – that the money wouldn’t be spent on a much-needed surgery, or an attempt to fix a broken family, or on their kid’s education. That money was going straight back on the machines, or on the dogs, or on the horses. Because that’s how gambling works. That’s how all addiction works. Their eyes have no hope, staring emptily at that big TV, with those beasts of burden galloping towards an early death. An unfortunate metaphor.
“Another Toohey’s, Steve?” I ask.
His eyes never leave the screen.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with gambling addiction call 1800 858 858, or visit: https://www.gamblinghelponline.org.au/