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Current as of 01/10/14 02:00PM NZST

David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Poor communities feed pokies most

Many groups now depend on gambling as an income to fund activities. File photo / NZ Herald
Many groups now depend on gambling as an income to fund activities. File photo / NZ Herald

Some of the country's poorest communities are feeding the most money into pokies, new data has revealed.

Department of Internal Affairs figures show the richest individual machines are in Christchurch and bringing in an average of $110,268 each year.

Six of the top 10 are in Auckland, with the highest average earner, at Mangere Bridge, pulling in $106,222 for each machine.

The figure for the community pokies compares to an approximate $140,000 a year pulled in by each of SkyCity Casino's pokies, which operate 24 hours a day, every day.

The findings support research quoted by the Problem Gambling Foundation that the poorest communities spend the most on gambling.

Labour leader David Shearer said the current focus on SkyCity - which offered to build a $350 million convention centre in return for gambling concessions - had brought necessary attention to the entire gambling sector.

"It's made people sit up and look at what is happening in the gambling world. I hate pokies, frankly."

The figures from Internal Affairs show the nation put $865,355,424.83 into poker machines in clubs and pubs last year.

The information is collected from computers inside poker machines and relayed directly to Internal Affairs.

It shows the most money spent in any area was in Palmerston North, where punters put $17 million into pokies. The area also had a high number of machines - more than 400.

Mayor Jono Naylor said the city was debating whether to lower its "sinking lid" level further, which would force pokie numbers down.

The debate had led to submissions from community groups which said they needed pokie money, which they obtained through grants, to be able to function.

Mayor Naylor described as "sad" the "pleading" from community groups to keep machine numbers at the same level.

"It is not a great reflection on society that we are dependent on doing positive things in the community with income derived from pokie machines."

Many South Auckland suburbs featured among those which gambled away the most money. Mangere Bridge, Flat Bush, Manukau and Manurewa were in the top dozen suburbs.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown, who developed his powerbase in those suburbs while Mayor of Manukau, said poor people were worst affected by problem gambling.

He had already faced pressure on the issue after an attempt by councillors to oppose the SkyCity deal.

He said councillors should be working on a strategy on pokies for Auckland while waiting on details of the SkyCity deal.

Mr Brown said he had led the struggle against problem gambling while Manukau mayor and was continuing the battle, insisting any deal with SkyCity included stronger policies to combat addiction.

"I am not opposed to gambling - betting on the horses, the Golden Kiwi, Lotto are all part of the New Zealand way of life."

Mangere Metropolitan Club manager Aaron Kirby said the Government was also addicted to pokie money.

He said the club brought in $741,000 from its 18 poker machines last financial year - well below the average for the area of $83,957 per machine.

He said Government took $181,000 as duty, GST on the earnings and $8000 for licences each year. The money left was used for community donations and to benefit members, Mr Kirby said.

"I'm of the belief pokie machines are a scourge. But they are part of hospitality in New Zealand now."

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said he believed "Mt Eden/Epsom/Parnell" in the list was due to 18 gaming machines at Alexandra Park.

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