Poker machines siphon $840m

By Teuila Fuatai

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Punters dropped nearly $34 million into Western Bay of Plenty poker machines last year - about $92,900 daily.

Figures from the Department of Internal Affairs reveal gaming machine expenditure declined slightly in the 12 months to December, by about $560,000.

The number of poker machines in Tauranga has also decreased, down 21 since 2011 to 2744 last year.

Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin said the results were positive but there was still a long way to go as poker machines caused a lot of trouble in the community. She said things didn't appear to be getting any better over the past year or two, despite the positive figures.

The organisation has a money managing scheme for people with addictions, including gambling, where the organisation made payments on all essential bills on behalf of the client and the client was left with some spending money each week. Mrs Bruin said this helped to take away the temptation of gambling.

"This helps take away the temptation because if there's temptation there, it's extremely hard to say no," Mrs Bruin said.

There were other ways of resisting the urge to gamble than by having someone manage your money.

Hospitality NZ Tauranga branch president Clayton Mitchell said clubs and bars had several systems in place to prevent problem gamblers from returning.

"You can do self-exclusion.

"Most sites [pubs and bars] I've been to have three or four pictures on the wall of people who have self-excluded themselves.

"They [problem gamblers] have obviously gone to an organisation and said, 'I've got a problem with my gambling'."

Mr Mitchell said staff at bars and clubs also watched patron behaviour to ensure possible problem gamblers were identified.

Nationally, Kiwis spent nearly $840 million on poker machines last year - $27.1 million (3.1 per cent) less than the previous year.

The number of gaming machines decreased, from 18,133 to 17,670. There were also 29 fewer gaming machine venues compared with 2011.

The Problem Gambling Foundation said the figures were encouraging.

"It certainly indicates that people are starting to understand about pokie machines and how addictive and dangerous they are," spokeswoman Andree Froude said.

"We want to see sinking-lid policies in place in our communities and that will help reduce the harm and enormous social cost and impact of problem gambling."

Thirty-seven per cent of gaming machine proceeds must be returned to the community, according to the Gambling Act.

Ms Froude said about 40 per cent of money dropped into the pokies was spent by people who had a gambling problem. In addition, many punters who lost money could not afford it, she said.

Research also showed poker machines were concentrated in poorer areas.

The Problem Gambling Foundation has warned that proposed changes to the Gambling Act, which would enable pub and bar owners to take profit on poker machines if implemented, would result in an increase in problem gambling.

Industry group Hospitality NZ wants to introduce a commission-based payment system for venues, which would entitle pub and bar owners to 16 per cent of poker machine profits.

Currently, they are only permitted to take enough to cover their expenses.

Hospitality NZ also wants to remove the requirement for gaming trusts to return 37 per cent of profits to the community. This would be replaced with a requirement to return all money after tax and expenditure which would be capped under its proposals.

Hospitality NZ gaming advocate Reg Hennessy said more money would be available for community grants if the act was changed.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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