The ACT government has authorised its $15,000 pokie buyback initiative to assist clubs through coronavirus closures and further reduce the number of gaming machines in the ACT.
Having dipped below the reduction target of 4000 machines in February, the ACT government will give clubs until June 30 to surrender gaming machine authorisations under the latest cash back policy.
To be used towards "staff employment", the COVID-19 response was introduced alongside several concessions offered to Canberra's 50 gaming clubs, hotels and taverns to help them survive forced closures.
The ACT government provided more than $5.8m in waived liquor licensing and permit fees plus application fee waivers for clubs broadening liquor licences.
Venues received around $400,000 in Icon Water rebates and the opportunity to apply for payroll tax relief.
Former problem gambler and founder of The Hope Project, Kate Seselja, said when the industry shut down there wasn't rioting in the streets of Canberra calling for clubs to be reopened.
"It's been a breath of fresh air for people who have been trapped in the fog of false hope that gambling provides," she said.
"Hope that it is an answer to their financial difficulties, that it is an answer to their boredom, that it is an answer to their pain. It isn't, it is a cleverly designed product created to extract wealth out of vulnerable people."
Mother of three, Jess, whose name has been changed due to her profession as a Canberra doctor, has been a problem gambler for more than 15 years.
She said she felt a sense of relief and comfort when the clubs closed and was apprehensive about their reopening, currently planned for mid-July.
"I really worry for those who are in a worse financial situation than myself and those who have lost work being drawn to the pokies to soothe their worries or attempting to make quick money," she said.
"It's a potentially life-destroying situation."
Jess said thankfully she did not gamble online, but had started using pokie machines while doing her undergraduate science degree.
"It was only an occasional social activity and while I was excited by the small wins I never played alone," she said.
"One day during my third year in medical school I had a tough day with a particular assessment and the way I dealt with that was to visit a local golf club and I played a pokie machine by myself to escape my bad feelings about the exam.
"During my rural placements I would go to pubs to play both for the thrill and to combat loneliness. I would visit the pub several days a week.
"I recall a period during my residency where I briefly contemplated suicide as I felt so hopeless and disappointed in my stupidity and repeat mistakes chasing wins and losses despite knowing it was destroying me financially and emotionally.
"At the same time is was like my route of escape in an at times stressful job as a junior doctor. I could burn through hundreds of dollars a day and at its worst about $1000 a day. I feel sick thinking about how much I would have fed into pokie machines over the last 16 or so years."
Jess said since that time her pattern of gambling has been in bouts every few months.
"I have self-excluded myself from local venues but of course if the strong urge hits in a time of vulnerability or opportunity it is always easy to locate another place to gamble," she said.