The Bay has had many reasons to celebrate in recent months.

Towards the end of last year, the region knocked Auckland off the top spot as New Zealand's best-performing region in the ASB/Main Report Regional Economic Scoreboard, as business confidence boomed, the job market sizzled and real estate agencies reported a record year.

Last month, the region also proved it had an appetite for major sporting events when nearly 15,000 people made the most of having the Black Caps playing on their home patch. That success added fuel to a plan to make Tauranga an events destination.

These are all exciting developments and show that the region is well placed for the future.


However, one thing we have topped the country for is cause for concern rather than celebration.

As reported in the Bay of Plenty Times yesterday, Tauranga topped New Zealand last year for pokie machine gambling, with gamblers routinely slipping through the net designed to stop them becoming addicted to pokie machines.

Salvation Army public health worker Stephanie St George gave a rare insight into how the rules were working in Tauranga in a bid to persuade the city council to tighten its controls on pokies.

On a percentage comparison with other councils, she said $1.5 million more dollars was lost in Tauranga gaming machines last year. This equated to over 5 per cent growth, compared to Tauranga's actual population growth of 2-3 per cent.

Ms St George said 3400 to 6600 city residents were at risk from their gambling. Given the $30 million fed into Tauranga machines last year, she suspected the number of at-risk gamblers was an under-estimate.

She said the council's policy that allowed the supply of machines to grow in tandem with population growth was a possible reason why Tauranga had the largest percentage growth in gambling machine spending last year of any other council in New Zealand.

The council proposes to drop the ratio from one machine per 147 people to one machine per 228 people.

Given the social cost of gambling, it would be a good first step for the council to reduce the number of machines.