Carolyn Hirsh was uniquely qualified to warn of the dangers of poker machines when she spoke at the Tasmanian Parliamentary Inquiry into Future Gaming Markets.
As Government whip in Victoria in 1990, Ms Hirsh argued successfully for her government’s introduction of poker machines as a revenue raising measure.
“I did have some qualms, and I was the only person who mentioned the possibility of addiction,” she says. “But I supported their introduction and I didn’t think much more of it.”
Having practised as a psychologist, Carolyn Hirsh well understood the process of addiction. She knew the science; that poker machines are designed to fire dopamine release in the brain in just the same way as drugs like nicotine, heroin and cocaine.
But that knowledge didn’t help Ms Hirsh when she became addicted to the machines herself.
Her initial occasional use became a compulsion after her daughter’s suicide. “When I was using the machines, I felt good. They made the pain go away,” said Ms Hirsh.
“It was like I was hypnotised,” she explains. “I sat there, watching the reels spin, and just felt calm. I could feel it when the dopamine was released, and it was fantastic.”
But the depression returned each time she realised she’d run out of money. “When I realised I had no money left, I felt horror at the thought of going back home,” said Ms Hirsh.
Over almost a decade, Ms Hirsh lost almost everything. “I have nothing to leave my children. It all went.”
Ms Hirsh has come to Tasmania to share her story and insight with the Tasmanian Parliamentary Inquiry. She knows the challenges faced by state governments and the need to balance economic and social interests in decision making. But, she also knows that no one is immune to the dangers of poker machines and that their harm is far reaching into the community.
“Tasmania is very fortunate,” said Ms Hirsh. “Unlike Victoria, the Tasmanian State Government is not reliant on revenue from poker machines. They can choose to prioritise the well-being of their people and communities.”
Ms Hirsh’s key message to the Tasmanian Government is that they must seize this nation-leading opportunity for change. “This Government can act decisively to create a more positive future for all Tasmanians by taking poker machines out of pubs and clubs.”