Gamblers are losing $80,000 a day - or $29 million a year - to pokie machines in Tauranga.
The scale of the problem has been revealed in latest figures from the Internal Affairs Department, which controls gambling in New Zealand.
It shows that the recession has barely put a dent in the amount of money being gambled in Tauranga and instead seen a steep rise in the number of people seeking treatment for serious gambling addictions.
Tauranga gamblers receiving help from agencies such as the Problem Gambling Foundation and the Salvation Army's Oasis Centre have nearly doubled to 283 a year, according to the Ministry of Health.
The ripple effect from one problem gambler can typically impact on up to 18 people, meaning the lives of about 5000 Tauranga residents are being affected each year.
With the pokie machines programmed to pay out an average of 85 per cent, Tauranga gamblers are feeding in about $533,000 each day to get back $453,000 - leaving an average daily profit of $80,000 from the city's 563 slot machines.
Calculated over a year, a total of about $194 million is being gambled through pokies to return $165 million in winnings and $29 million to the charitable gaming trusts which own the machines.
Comparing the latest three-monthly profits from Tauranga's pokies with the profits generated before the recession started to bite, there has only been a 4 per cent decline in gambling.
The heaviest gambling takes place in Greerton and Papamoa where the average profit per machine was $170 a day, followed by $140 per machine at Mount Maunganui and $133 per machine for the rest of Tauranga.
A Tauranga father of one, who spoke on condition he was not identified, said he began gambling on the pokies about two years ago, not long after he and his partner had lost a child.
The man has continued to pop into Martys Pool & Snooker Entertainment Centre in Elizabeth St after work on and off as a stress breaker before he heads home.
"My partner knows I gamble and this is a winding down period for me, which is far better than taking the stresses of the day home with me."
Bob, not his real name, said he usually only gambles with about $20 and when he wins anything he puts half his winnings into his pocket. He usually only plays for about an hour and his biggest loss has been about $80 but about a year ago he won $2500.
He likes to play the Money Beans machine because he is familiar with how the game works. He only buys Lotto tickets occasionally and doesn't engage in any other form of gambling.
The man believes he has his gambling under control but some other people don't.
While gambling at Marty's, he has seen other gamblers poured hundreds into the machine and is blown away by how much people are prepared to lose.
"I was sitting beside a man one night and in the time it took for me to put $20 in the machine he had lost $300 and he continued to gamble even more.
"You have to know when to walk away and control your gambling so it doesn't control you. I know my limit and I can still afford to pay my bills each week."
The bleak odds facing non-recreational pokie players was highlighted by Pub Charity, one of the country's biggest trusts.
It said that players might win occasionally "but if you keep playing you will almost certainly lose all the money you put in".
"Poker machines are not designed to help players make money," said Pub Charity's Graeme Angler.
The charitable trusts return most of the money they make to community organisations located in the areas where the machines are located, less tax and expenses.
The misery caused by people who succumb to gambling is a daily reality for Problem Gambling Foundation psychologist educator Margaret Sloan, who sees an average of 100 new clients a year. Ms Sloan, of Tauranga, said the worst-case scenario was when a partner in a marriage resorted to stealing from their employer to fund gambling. It led to criminal convictions, prison and the person being stigmatised for the rest of their life.
Ripple effects included one partner parenting the children while the other was in prison, the thief being unable to find work once they were released, the family being reduced to the poverty line and huge pressures on the relationship.
She said loneliness and boredom was definitely a factor for why some people began gambling, depending on their age. Others saw it as an escape from a stressful situation.
The good news was the foundation had a really good success rate through one-on-one counselling and weekly group sessions.
And while most people fell into the category of taking the money if they had a good win, the problem gambler tended to put the winnings back into the machine.
Asked what constituted a problem gambler, she said it was when people went without things such as clothing and food in order to continue to gamble. It was about the instant gratification from gambling, even although they knew they would lose in the long run. She likened it to a person who went back to the same fishing spot after a really good day and not having much luck thereafter.
The total amount of money gambled each day in pokie machines across the whole of the Western Bay of Plenty averaged about $640,000, or $233 million a year. Profits totalled $96,000 a day from the Western Bay's 758 machines.
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