How young NSW gambler hit rock bottom but bounced back
For those battling addiction, rock bottoms can come in different forms.
Jordyn Bateman, 28, hit his while collecting empty cans for 10 cents a pop so he could go and play one of the 86,000 pokie machines scattered around New South Wales.
After 10 years of losing on the pokies, as the gambling machines are known in Australia, the painter from the Central Coast was broke.
Whatever wages came into Bateman's pocket were going straight back out.
"I'd lose a lot," he said.
"And then I'd have to borrow money from friends and family," he added, describing to 9news.com.au the demoralising cycle familiar to all problem gamblers.
"I was even crushing cans. You know, how you get 10 cents from the cans?
"It got to a stage where I was doing that.
"Then I sort of realised, 'What am I doing?'"
Bateman was 18 the first time he played the machines, just as he was able to go into pubs and legally buy a beer.
Inside, it didn't take long for a bank of pokies to capture his attention.
He dropped in some cash, and so it began. Slowly at first.
"It's pretty easy to just go and do," is how he remembered it.
He had some wins early on.
"It wasn't a lot. But it definitely hooked me in."
Last year The Washington Post reflected on the omnipresence of pokies across Australia, and especially in NSW.
The ubiquity of pokies has become normal in Australia; not so for international visitors.
The paper reported Australia has less than half-a-per cent of the world's population but 20 per cent of its pokies – and 80 per cent of those located outside casinos.
There are around 86,000 electronic gaming machines (EGMs) in NSW, so it's little surprise Bateman found himself reeled in.
According to a 2017 government report looking at the risks of EGMs, one of the key findings was that the machines have computers which run "sophisticated techniques, designed to maximise spending and time on device per user".
The report said the EGMs very successfully employ complex "game maths" and "psychological principals" to maximise bet sizes and usage.
"These characteristics have the effect of increasing the addictive potential of EGMs," it warned.
Bateman began to spend hours playing.
Where he was once gambling on trips to the pub with friends, he was soon playing on his own.
It had become a secret.
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"I was just tuned into the machine … it just brings you in," he said.
"That's the whole evil side of it."
He'd enter a so-called "VIP lounge" gaming venue to play with a set limit in his head, but hours later he'd often leave, despondent and with every cent to his name drained.
"That probably happened nearly every time," he said.
"You just lose control of yourself."
There was a merry-go-round of borrowing from friends and family.
"It was very stressful, and it just made everything really difficult," he recalled.
"And most times, I wouldn't even want to ask for (the money).
"But that's just how it gets. It creates this person that you're really not."
READ MORE: Clubs protect rivers of gold – but sky won't fall if pokie reforms come
Most recent data from Liquor and Gaming NSW show gamblers in the state, like Bateman, are losing up to $23 million every day.
These are huge numbers, with serious implications.
In the third quarter of 2022, pubs and clubs raked in an eye-popping $2.18 billion.
"We're talking about enormous losses," Wesley Mission chief executive and gambling reform advocate Rev Stu Cameron said.
His organisation has estimated the gambling industry is causing harm to up to 1.7 million people across NSW, almost a quarter of the state's population.
Government research has found that a person experiencing problem gambling can affect up to six other people around them.
"This is nothing short of a public health crisis."
A NSW Crime Commission report into the widespread use of EMGs indicated the problem goes far beyond individual gamblers and their wider families.
Poker machines in NSW pubs and clubs turned over $95 billion in 2020-21.
While impossible to know exact figures, the commission has estimated that criminals launder billions each year through the machines, the proceeds of organised crime coming from drugs, sex work, human trafficking and other illicit activity.
The commission believes a cashless gaming card, which removes the cloak of anonymity from players, will immediately cut off the money laundering pipeline.
But not everyone is convinced.
The Australian Hotels Association and Clubs NSW said the commission's report "found no widespread evidence hotel gaming machines are being used to clean 'dirty money'".
The group, which represents 1800 licensed premises, is opposed to the cashless gaming card, as strongly advocated by Premier Dominic Perrottet.
READ MORE: 'I knew I had a problem' – Gambling addiction in Australia
AHA NSW declined to comment when 9news.com.au asked multiples times about issues such as the number of machines in the state, and the group's opposition to the card.
"Having millions of patrons forced to give up their personal details to be monitored should be a last step not a first one," the group said last year, when declaring their view on Perrottet's plan.
"Hotels do not want criminals in venues – and we will work closely with Government, police and the community on common-sense measures which will actually work such as facial recognition to identify and ban criminals."
Labor's Chris Minns, who is seeking to oust Perrottet when voters go to the polls on March 25, is proposing a watered down version.
"It could have done something," Bateman said, discussing the hypotheticals of whether the card – and its self-imposed daily limits – could have helped him.
"I could have been able to set myself a limit."
In the end, Bateman reached out for help and has now gone six months without playing.
As the days tick by, his life is slowly returning to normal.
Have you been affected by gambling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
He's back playing guitar, and other outside interests – once neglected – have been reinvigorated.
"It's just been so much less stressful, like I've been able to breathe properly."
With the help of a counsellor and a financial plan, he's been able to navigate the week, from payday to payday.
But it's not easy.
And he worries about other young Aussies, just like him, who are leaving school.
"They're everywhere, all the pubs and clubs around here, there's pokies everywhere."
If you have a problem with gambling there is help available. Contact Lifeline – 13 11 14 or Gamblers Anonymous – www.gaaustralia.org.au
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