Gamblers lose $36 million on pokies in Bay

By Jordan Bond

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Western Bay punters lost an extra $2 million in the last year on the "crack cocaine" of gambling - pokies. Photo/Andrew Warner
Western Bay punters lost an extra $2 million in the last year on the "crack cocaine" of gambling - pokies. Photo/Andrew Warner

A Tauranga problem gambling service has had a spike in addicts seeking help as Western Bay residents lost more than $36 million last year on the "crack cocaine" of gaming - pokie machines.

Government figures showed Tauranga gamblers lost $31.3m on electronic gaming machines in the 12 months to June, and Western Bay users $5.4m.

This is more than 6 per cent (or $2m) higher than the June 2015 year, and is in contrast to steady declines since 2004.

These figures represented gamblers' net loss - the total amount wagered minus any winnings or payouts.

Manager of Tauranga's Salvation Army Bridge and Oasis programme Daryl Wesley said there had been a significant recent spike in gamblers asking for help.

"In the last six to eight weeks, we have seen more people walk in off the street seeking support for problem gambling than we had seen in the six months previous to that," Mr Wesley said.

"I wonder - and I've got nothing to [prove] this - if our housing and rent crisis is part of the stress for some of these people... Pokie machines are kind of seen as the crack cocaine of gambling."

Salvation Army Oasis public health worker Stephanie St George said a lot of problematic gambling behaviour was ignored because it was considered normal by gamblers and venue staff.

"By the time people do seek help, generally things have got really, really bad."

She said part of the concern was many problem gamblers were from poor or deprived communities.

"Is that the way we want to be funding our community organisations? We would definitely encourage those organisations... to consider the ethical implications of taking funding from that source."

The 541 machines in the Tauranga district made an average of almost $58,000 per machine in the past 12 months - significantly more than the median earnings of fulltime Kiwi workers.

Gaming legislation required owners of class 4 machines - pokies - to distribute a minimum of 40 per cent of proceeds as grants. The Crown took 23 per cent of proceeds as a levy, and 1.51 per cent of proceeds were directed to problem gambling support services.

The Ministry of Health spent about $18.5 million annually on gambling harm minimisation across all areas - casinos, betting, Lotto and pokies.

Associate director of Auckland University's Centre for Addiction Studies Peter Adams said there were too many groups with a "high reliance" on the proceeds of gambling to expect any meaningful change.

"I can't see things changing in any significant way until community groups and the Government say we are not comfortable accepting money from problem gamblers.

"That's highly unlikely because people are very invested in it. People have come to rely on funding from that source.

"I think these are dangerous machines that have the capacity to ruin people's lives, so I think we should be treating them like other harmful products, and looking very carefully at them."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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