David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Pokies boss: Harm claim is over-hyped

Comment follows report showing 45,000 people had problems with gambling.

Martin Cheer said descriptions of pokie machines as the "methamphetamine of gambling" came from people who didn't know drugs - or pokies. Photo / Christine Cornege
Martin Cheer said descriptions of pokie machines as the "methamphetamine of gambling" came from people who didn't know drugs - or pokies. Photo / Christine Cornege

The gambling-charity boss overseeing pokies in pubs and bars has launched a blistering attack on the problem-gambling industry, saying it over-hypes a problem for machines that aren't really addictive.

Pub Charity chief executive Martin Cheer said the industry was unfairly tainted by problem gambling when the negative effects were relatively few.

He said one in six adults played gaming machines each year.

"As I have said in response to the people who parrot that gaming machines are designed to addict, clearly the designers are not doing a very good job."

He said addiction was an obsessive-compulsive disorder and could "develop over any activity, not just gambling".

Mr Cheer's comments were made in emails to the Herald after a report showing pokies were the greatest problem area for gamblers. The Synergia report for the Gambling Commission showed 45,000 people had problems with gambling and another 89,000 people had problems caused by somebody else's gambling.

Of those citing a problem, 60 per cent said they played non-casino pokies.

Mr Cheer said moderate problem gambling made up two-thirds of statistics and was "behaviour that may or may not lead to problems". He said "at risk" behaviour was a new criterion "added more recently to justify funding intervention staff when they have no clients".

It watered down the definition of problem gambling and expanded the scale of the issue. "So if you like a bet on a horse and your wife gets upset, then that's captured by the contemporary definition of problem gambling."

He said descriptions of pokie machines as the "methamphetamine of gambling" came from people who didn't know drugs - or pokies. He said eight years in gaming and eight years working in the police - including four in the drug squad - meant he was qualified to comment.

Mr Cheer said methamphetamine was addictive and deadly, but after eight years of frequent contact with gaming machines he had suffered no problems.

"I have six in my showroom now loaded with credits. I am in gaming venues almost daily, and having had no exposure to gaming machines before this, I have shown no inclination to lose self-control."

"I am 'at risk' every time I drive over the Rimutaka [Hill] every day but I, like the overwhelming majority, travel it safely."

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey had said pokies were like making the drive fast, without seatbelts and after a few drinks.

"His comments don't exactly show a level of understanding of the problems his trust creates for people."

Mr Ramsey said the description of addictive behaviour as "OCD" was wrong.

Pub Charity was a key organisation behind the opposition to the private members bill from Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell, which threatens the existence of pokie trusts through change to the system by which funds are distributed.

It targeted organisations receiving the $190 million paid out in gaming proceeds each year, telling them their existence was threatened by Mr Flavell's bill.

The commerce select committee, which received the submissions, issues its report in late March.

- NZ Herald

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