A poker machine addict’s desperate suicide mission to Crown Casino in Melbourne has thrown into question the gambling giant’s commitment to responsible gaming.
Perth man Mark Robley says he is telling his shocking story to try to get more support for people battling addiction to pokies.
His own gambling problem started when he was a teenager in Townsville.
“I started playing poker machines when I was 18,” he said. “Started betting small and started enjoying it. My friends would go out clubbing. I would be sort of in the back room playing pokie machines.
“That’s where, I guess, my addiction started.”
He said when he moved to Sydney, temptation was everywhere.
“I couldn’t escape,” he said. “Everywhere I went there were poker machines, every pub, every club.”
So he moved with his partner to Perth where poker machines are only allowed in the city’s casino.
And he banned himself from the venue by putting himself on the casino’s “self-exclusion” list.
“It actually took my wife at the time to pull me up and actually pretty much drag me into that centre and self exclude,” he said.
But as it turned out, even that did not protect him.
‘I spent every waking minute on the gambling floor’
Recently, the 33-year-old’s long-term addiction reached its peak.
Depressed from the break-up of his marriage and using drugs, he lost his job on a Pilbara mine site.
“I lost my job on a Thursday … by the time I landed back in Perth, I’d pre-empted an idea that flying to Melbourne and writing myself off financially was a good idea,” he said.
“I flew over, stayed at Crown Towers over in Melbourne and I spent every minute awake on the gambling floor there losing my money.”
He went to the casino every day for three weeks spending all he had — and much, much more.
“I spent my initial savings of about $20,000, then maxed out all my credit cards — then actually increased the limits on all my credit cards,” he said.
“Then took out a personal loan. So, all up over three weeks, about $120,000.
“I think there was a period I was there for 48 hours without leaving.”
‘They asked if I wanted access to a VIP room’
Crown offers punters the chance to “self-exclude” themselves from each casino if they know they’ve got a problem.
Mark was already self-excluded from Crown’s casino in Perth but he claims even when Melbourne staff became aware of this they allowed him to continue gambling.
“They actually approached me — I think on the second or third day — on the main gambling floor,” he said.
“I guess they must have noticed how much money I was spending.
“They asked me if I wanted access into one of their VIP rooms and I said yes.
“They took my ID, then they realised I was actually self-excluded at the Perth venue and they’ve come back to me and said they wouldn’t allow access to the VIP room.
“Yet the self-exclusion wouldn’t apply to Melbourne, I could stay on the main floor.
“At the time I was trying to fuel my anger, so I didn’t care much at the time.
“But, you know, post that incident and reflecting back you’d say it was pretty poor.”
Mr Robley’s case has been highlighted in a submission by Financial Counselling Australia to the Victorian Gambling Regulator which is reviewing Crown Melbourne’s licence.
“Crown actually identified this man as someone who was self-excluded in Perth, then let him gamble at Crown Melbourne, only excluding him from the VIP room initially,” the submission said.
‘I would rack up a line of cocaine on a poker machine’
Crown Casino is already in the spotlight after former staff accused it of allegedly tampering with poker machines and turning a blind eye to domestic violence and drug use.
Those allegations have been rejected as “outrageous” and “unfounded” by Crown Resorts’ chairman John Alexander.
But Mr Robley claims to have first-hand experience.
“I would rack up a line of cocaine on a poker machine and just snort it, and did that frequently in their VIP room, once I had access through a guest,” he said.
“I would just pop ecstasy pills — I would walk around with a bag of pills in my pocket and eat them like they were candy.”
He also claims to have been offered drugs inside the Melbourne casino.
“The first week I was there I was actually approached by a young kid who offered me drugs, which I accepted,” he said.
“He asked me if I’d like some meth. I said, ‘yes’. He said, ‘wait here’.
“Two minutes later, an older man sat next to me and offered me a bag for cash and I bought it.”
Mr Robley’s trip to Crown Melbourne was also a suicide mission.
He says he tried to overdose on ecstasy tablets while still in the building.
“They took me to hospital and later that day I walked out of the hospital and still wanted to end my life and ended up on a construction crane,” he said.
“I wanted to step off the end but I couldn’t.
“Even doing all that damage to myself, there was something deep inside me that still said, ‘there’s more than this’.”
Crown Casino investigating claims
Mr Robley’s allegations come amid pressure for a federal inquiry into the casino industry.
7.30 asked Crown for an interview for this story and the opportunity to show 7.30 around its 24-hour Responsible Gambling Centre in Perth.
Crown Resorts said it was still investigating Mr Robley’s claims and pointed 7.30 to its annual report.
The report says: “In 2002, Crown Melbourne introduced a world first in responsible gaming initiatives by establishing the Responsible Gaming Support Centre at its resort. A similar facility, the Responsible Gambling Information Centre, was opened at the Crown Perth resort in 2010.
“Employee training and education in responsible gaming begins on an employee’s first day during the induction program. This training includes information about observable behaviours that may indicate that a customer may be experiencing difficulty with their gaming experience and how to direct the customer to appropriate services.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14