David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Pokie machines ruined my brother

Tradesman empties bank account after every payday to feed his gambling-machine addiction, family say. Photo / APN
Tradesman empties bank account after every payday to feed his gambling-machine addiction, family say. Photo / APN

One man's pursuit of success on poker machines is laid bare in a handful of bank statements opened by a distraught family member.

They show the Auckland tradesman earned $32,400 in 14 weeks, but spent $30,300 on what his family believe to be gambling.

"He's out of control," said the man's brother, who the Weekend Herald agreed not to name.

"I don't know what's happened to him. He's changed. It is just a complete personality change."

The man came forward to offer the bank statements as evidence of the dark side of gambling addiction.

He was prompted by debate over negotiations between the government and SkyCity, which owns casinos in Auckland, Hamilton and Queenstown.

SkyCity proposes to build a $350 million convention centre in Auckland in return for gambling concessions, including being allowed to have up to 500 more poker machines at its casino in the central city.

"I'd like to see all the pokies scrapped," said the tradesman's brother. "I'd like to see the whole lot disappear."

The man said he had begun to suspect his brother had a hidden part to his life after the pair came to share a house. He began to see his brother's car parked outside pokie venues and feared he had a gambling problem.

He took to spying on his brother playing poker machines. He took along other family members who had loaned the tradesman money.

Confronted, his brother said: "I'm only having a little flutter."

Eventually, the tradesman's lifestyle became more erratic and his efforts to get money more insistent and overt. His brother sought advice from gambling support groups.

Their advice was: "Get him out of the house - he'll destroy the family."

The man said his brother spent a period sleeping in a car. He moved back in briefly but was asked to leave again. He said he believed his brother was now sleeping in a car again.

The man said he knew his brother had a good job and earned plenty of money. It was puzzling trying to understand why he had to resort to sleeping in his car.

He said opening his brother's bank statements answered the question - he now believed the money was spent almost entirely on gambling.

The statements show large amounts of spending at pubs with gambling machines. In some cases, the tradesman withdrew almost $1000 in an evening. In the case of SkyCity, the figures were higher.

There is a clear pattern. Wages were paid into the account each fortnight. The balance was healthy, reflecting the $2300 the tradesman earned each week.

In almost all the statements for the past year, it took only two days to empty the account. Sometimes it took one day - never longer than three. The brother said the tradesman had broken off relationships with women, who also complained he owed them money.

It was also beginning to emerge that he was quoting on trade work, accepting deposits and then not doing the job.

The brother said some would-be clients had called wanting their money back.

"I don't think people have any idea what a problem gambler does. People should know about this," he said, leafing through the bank statements.

The brother, who votes National, said he was horrified the Government was using poker machines as a bargaining chip. "I certainly won't be voting National next time if they let this through."

Problem Gambling Foundation spokeswoman Andree Froude said the host responsibility programmes of pubs, clubs and casinos were critical in helping problem gamblers.

The programmes placed an obligation on those overseeing pokies to be alert to people displaying signs of problem gambling and to ask if they needed help.

"People caught up in problem gambling do what they can to cover their tracks so that members of their family don't know what they are doing or what they are spending their money on."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said SkyCity could do more to identify problem gamblers by using pop-ups on pokies or introducing tools to help punters understand what they had won or lost.

"[Prime Minister] John Key says SkyCity is paying the full cost for the convention centre. No they are not. This man [the tradesman], and hundreds like him, are paying the full cost."

Community Gaming Association chairman John Burke said it was important to remember the machines served as an entertainment outlet for many people who used them.

"They enjoy it. They go home at the end of the night, win or lose, feeling like they have had a good time."

He said gambling profits from clubs and pubs went back into the community. "The gambling that occurs in casinos ends up as profits for shareholders."

SkyCity did not respond to calls for comment or an invitation to discuss its host responsibility programme.

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- NZ Herald

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