Karen O'Hara lost $18,000 to gambling machines in the Hunter this year but now things are looking up

LOOKING UP: Karen O'Hara of Arcadia Vale wants to share the story of her gambling addiction to reach others who are struggling. Picture: Marina Neil
LOOKING UP: Karen O'Hara of Arcadia Vale wants to share the story of her gambling addiction to reach others who are struggling. Picture: Marina Neil

Despite spending $25,000 on poker machines in 2013, Arcadia Vale's Karen O'Hara said she did not accept her gambling habit was a problem until New Year's Eve three years later.

"We had a party at home And afterwards I wanted to go down to the tavern and I said to my partner, can you loan me $50. She said, 'I don't have $50 in cash but you can take my card.'

"I put $50 in, and it ran out. So I took another $50 out of my partner's card. Then I took another $50. Then my partner was texting me, saying, 'You need to stop, that's the money for the mortgage.' I just couldn't stop no matter what she said," Ms O'Hara said.

It got to the point where I was thinking, 'Do I put twenty dollars in the machine or do I end my life?'

Karen O'Hara

The 53-year-old said the incident was the end of the relationship but was a wake-up-call that she needed help for her addiction, which she is confident she will move past after hitting another low point this year.

Ms O'Hara said she sank $18,000 in the five months between September 2018 and February this year, after two-and-half years of abstinence. She sold her car and two of her beloved Rabbitohs jerseys for extra cash, visiting pubs and clubs "every day".

"It got to the point where I was thinking, 'Do I put twenty dollars in the machine or do I end my life?' Ms O'Hara said. "I felt I had let everybody down: my ex-partner, my friends, my family."

She attempted suicide in April, and was admitted to a psychiatric ward.

Since then, with the help of Wesley Mission gambling counsellors, Ms O'Hara reduced the time she spent gambling and has not gambled for the past 10 days. She said she is focusing on repaying her debts and studying to become a social worker.

"I want to change who I am and I want to make a difference," she said.

Ms O'Hara wants to spread the message that playing the pokies does not pay off.

"You are never going to achieve winning that big jackpot," she said. "No matter what you do, no matter how much you sell, or how much you win - you just don't end up with anything."

She described gambling addiction as an "invisible disease".

"People don't see it until the wheels fall off the wagon, and if they don't see it, they don't know," she said.

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This story 'People don't see it until the wheels fall off': Problem gambling first appeared on Newcastle Herald.