Gabriela Byrne talks about her frightening ‘affair’ with poker machines.


I believe it doesn’t matter what you take into a gaming room… if it’s loneliness, if it’s boredom, if it’s unresolved grief, if it’s anything, if your senses are distracted it give you the illusion that for that time nothing matters and people refer very often to that they’re in ‘a zone’ and that’s what they’re after and that was what I was after. While I was there my issues didn’t matter. It was just me and the machine.

I was there every day, sometimes three to five times a day; basically, as often as I could get money or time to go there. Now,  from a very responsible mother, wife, work colleague and friend, you can imagine my behaviour started to change.

There were endless lies about where I was, why I never was where I was, why I was always late, why, specifically, money was always an issue for us.

I often refer to it as a love affair, right. So, at the height of my addiction my family didn’t matter, my children didn’t matter. I remember taking money out of my daughter’s money box and I came home that night and she had found the note that I’ve taken the money and I remember sitting at her bedside and tears running down my face when my little girl said, “Mummy, can’t daddy buy you a poker machine, so you and the money just stay at home?” You know that hurt, but… and at that moment, I would have done anything to stop, but when the beast talked to me and said, “Let’s just go and play ten dollars and this time you can control it” I wasn’t strong enough and I switched from the Jekyll into Hyde and all I wanted was to feed the beast.

So, they had trouble dealing with me, as a mother that wasn’t the loving and caring person that I should have been. Going back, looking at my affair with the pokies, the consequences of my behaviour for this… over these four years is something that I have to live with. They’ve all forgiven me; I
have forgiven myself, but nobody can give me the time back.

There’s lots of indications that more and more the gambling beast became stronger and I became weaker.

I would see this ugly thing talking to me and I’d talk back to it like I would talk to my worst enemy. I’d say, ‘hey, you would like to go and spend ten dollars, I don’t. So, you just get lost’. So, it’s just one of these strategies that helped and I put all those in a program and called it The Free Yourself Program, and I’ve been teaching it to many people over the last, probably ten years and what I’ve found is, it gives people, besides the hope that they
can make it, actually something hands on to do.

Peter, my husband always says, if you go to a gaming room every day and you sit in front of a poker machine everybody gets hooked, because that’s the way they’re designed and I agree.

I went to Gamblers Anonymous. I went to Psychologists, Psychotherapists and I learned a lot about myself. When I relapsed after a prolonged period of not going, I started to research brain chemistry. I understood that I was a drug addict; I didn’t have to push a needle in my arm, I produced my own drugs. Walking into a gaming room, adrenaline was pumping.

When I look at a gaming machine now, it’s like looking at the old flame and thinking, god, what on earth did I ever see in them. So, I know that I’ve been changed to a point where they won’t be an issue for me anymore.