Gambling addiction: How a Canberra university professor lost $230,000 on the pokies

Gambling addiction: How a Canberra university professor lost $230,000 on the pokies

Gambling addiction: How a Canberra university professor lost $230,000 on the pokies

Updated 4 June 2017, 10:05 AEST

A new report raises concerns over clubs using eftpos to help gamblers bypass ATM withdrawal limits, as a successful academic details her descent into gambling addiction.

She may not look like it, but Laurie Brown is a poker machine addict.

Professor Brown, a successful University of Canberra academic, lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on the pokies, exploding the myth that gambling-related harm only affected those in lower socio-economic brackets.

"I could be glued to the machine for six hours at a time. You want a bigger hit, so I gambled at the maximum bets of $5 or $8 or $10 — I put lots of money through," she said.

Professor Brown tried to help herself by attempting a self-imposed ban, but it did not work and she soon found herself back in front of the pokies.

"Despite my first gambling episode I didn't understand the effect poker machines could have on me," Professor Brown said.

"That was really the beginning of a very dangerous slope for me. Unfortunately this time I gambled at much higher stakes and I lost over $230,000."

Her addiction almost ended her relationship. The bank called her partner John Formby to tell him thousands of dollars had been withdrawn from their account.

"I started getting the idea that it's not possible for people like Laurie to stop," Mr Formby said.

"It is an addiction like taking drugs.

"It is as if someone put heroin in front of a drug addict and then said only a dollar a shot mate and you can have this stuff. "

Laurie 'encouraged' to keep playing

Getting hundreds of dollars in cash to keep playing was made easy for Ms Brown.

She said she was allowed, and even encouraged, by club staff to get about a $250 withdrawal limit set on club ATMs, by using an eftpos machine.

"That opened the flood gates. There was no limit, at no point did anyone say to me 'do you want to get more money out?'," Professor Brown said.

A report released on Friday by the ACT Government found cash withdrawals from eftpos machines were being used by clubs to bypass the ATM laws.

It also labelled some practices in Canberra clubs as concerning and said they were undermining ways to help problem gamblers.

ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said he was concerned and disappointed.

"I have asked the Gambling and Racing Commission and also the Justice and Community Safety Directorate to do some work straight away on developing very specific recommendations to come back for changes," he said.

But president of the newly created body, Community Clubs ACT, said withdrawal restrictions would not solve problem gambling on its own.

"The problem finds its way around the regulation," Athol Chalmers said.

"If I had a $250 limit at a club and I was an obsessive gambler, I don't think I would just say 'ok I'll go home now and watch TV'. I would find a way around it."

Mr Chalmers has called for more staff training to give club workers the confidence to approach problem gamblers.

"We've got to be able to identify them — there are clear signs — and then they [staff] have to have the courage to go and have the conversation," he said.

Professor Brown said if someone inside a club had offered her help things might have been very different.

"I showed at least 10 of 13 major signs of problem gambling," she said.

"It partly became that bad because there was no intervention when I was actually gambling."