By Jordan Bond
Rotorua gamblers poured an extra $1.2 million into pokie machines in the last year, as the total amount lost in the city topped $20 million.
Government figures showed each of Rotorua's 382 pokies made an average of more than $54,000 per machine in the last 12 months - significantly more than the median full-time Kiwi worker earned. That came to a total of $20,628,000.
The wider district, including Taupo, Whakatane and Kawerau, collectively lost more than $40m in the 12 months to June.
This was more than 7 per cent higher than the previous 12 months, and was in contrast to steady declines seen nationwide since 2004.
These figures represented gamblers' net loss - the total amount wagered minus any winnings or payouts.
But Problem Gambling Foundation's district representative Eru Loach said gambling caused far more harm than just the monetary amount.
• Opinion: Pokies a waste of money
"What we capture by way of data never truly reflects the harm caused [by gambling] in communities throughout the whole country," Mr Loach said.
He said gambling can contribute to financial stress, relationship issues, domestic violence, and mental health issues.
He said while he dealt with these issues regularly, there were no official statistics on the physical, mental and emotional harms of gambling.
"Our concern is as a problem gambling service we continuously see an increase in the harm caused [by gambling] ... and the amount of money going to all the services to provide that support hasn't changed," Mr Loach said.
"We would all like, whether it's local or central government, to do what is necessary rather than what is currently happening."
Ruck 'n' Maul Sports Bar owner Henry Mitchell said they had seen a slight increase in the number of people coming in and using the pokie machines because they now opened earlier, at 8am.
However, they had not noticed a big increase.
He said one or two people came in about 8.30am, but stayed half an hour at the most, which may be because of work.
"Hopefully they are here for fun and enjoyment rather than spending their last dollar."
He said his staff were trained in harm minimisation and had signs of problem gambling to look out for.
The Ministry of Health spent about $18.1 million in 2015/16 on gambling harm minimisation across all areas - casinos, betting, Lotto and pokies - down from $18.5m a year earlier.
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 just 1.51 per cent of proceeds were directed to problem gambling support services.
Mr Loach said the hundreds of grant beneficiaries - which include community groups, sports teams, and local projects - should consider the implications of receiving the funding.
"We forget where that money came from. There's research to suggest most of that money comes from problem gamblers.
"That may influence organisations or community groups from a moral standpoint."
- Additional reporting Shauni James