Do-gooder: person who seeks to correct social ills in an idealistic, but usually impractical or superficial way. A well-meaning but unrealistic or interfering philanthropist or reformer.

Some will tell you gambling is one of the scourges of society - and many of us know at least one problem gambler.

Problem gamblers often ruin their own lives and affect the lives of those around them. Research shows that each person with a gambling problem affects between five and 10 other people.

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Sadly, I have known someone who almost lost their home through a pokie addiction - and would have if a family member had not helped them out.

For some people, it's the adrenaline rush ... the excitement of winning.

For others, it's simply desperation, usually by lower socio-economic groups in our community. It's a chance to lift themselves out of poverty - so they think - to make a quick buck or fix an imminent financial crisis.

Unfortunately, the problem is usually exacerbated by the gambling and the risks far outweigh the benefits, with the odds stacked against you - the house always wins.
In New Zealand, the ratio of pokies to people in financially well-off areas is 1 to 465, but the ratio in poor areas is 1 to 76. The sharks certainly know to feed where the fish are most plentiful.

According to experts, a pokie "near-miss" will trigger the same areas in your brain as if you had actually won, helping keep players hooked. These are also the same areas of the brain which are stimulated by drug addiction.

Statistics show that fewer than 10 per cent of people with a gambling problem seek professional help, while 25 per cent say part of the reason they don't look for help is because of shame and embarrassment.

Steve Baron
Steve Baron

In Whanganui, after all payouts, more than $10 million was taken out of pokie machines in 2016 - a figure that has steadily risen since 2014.

We have 225 pokie machines in Whanganui, down from 257 in 2013, and every three years the local council has to reassess its policies on gambling venues. The Gambling Act 2003 empowers councils to control where new gambling venues may be located and how many pokie machines are allowed.

This is an important tool because most people would agree that putting a gambling venue next to a high school, church or social welfare department would be distasteful.

But how far should we go in controlling these issues? Should we have the right to limit the number of gambling venues and machines, or to decide how people spend their own money? And can we really change people's habits, even though we think we can?
Perhaps the government and council are just being a bunch of do-gooders, when gambling is an issue of individual responsibility.

I suggest the government, council and other well-meaning individuals and groups are simply deluding themselves that they can help in any meaningful way. They are being righteous.

There may be no New Zealand companies allowed to offer online "casino" gambling, but the reality is all you need these days is a smart phone and a credit card and you can gamble on pokies, poker, roulette, horse racing and just about any sports game anywhere in the world - at any time of the day or night.

And all that money is going offshore to international online gaming operations.
Disclaimer: This author is a stockholder in Playtech, the world's largest online gaming software supplier.

Steve Baron is a Whanganui-based political commentator, author and Founder of Better Democracy NZ. He holds degrees economics and political science.