Western Bay punters are spending less on the pokies with gaming expenditure and machine numbers across the region in decline.

Punters dropped almost $33 million into the pokies last year, with some problem gamblers losing up to $900 in a single night.

But our love affair with the highly addictive machines appears to be waning. According to the Department of Internal Affairs, the amount squandered on Western Bay of Plenty pokies last year fell 3.3 per cent from the $33.9 million spent the previous year - on a par with the national decline.

The number of gaming venues across the region also dropped, from 54 to 52, bringing the number of machines down from 732 to 707 year-on-year.


The wider Western Bay recorded a 3.8 per cent decline in pokies expenditure, while Tauranga gaming spend was down 3.2 per cent.

A Tauranga bar owner, who didn't want to be named, said gaming machine use was still strong, with some punters dropping up to $900 in a single night.

Venues had procedures in place to address problem gambling, but it was hard to know who could afford to gamble and who could not, he said.

"It's very difficult because some of our customers are not the most salubrious individuals. They might be dressed in rags, but put down $500-$600.

"[How] is it my job to say, 'Hey you can't do that'? What I do say is, 'This is the fourth time you've been up to get out $100, is this the way you want to spend your money?"'

Staff had an obligation to monitor problem gambling behaviour and to look out for warning signs.

These included hitting and screaming at the machine, and continually saying each cash withdrawal was "the last one".

Nationally, machine numbers fell from 17,670 to 17,266 and gambling spend fell 3.3 per cent from $839.7 million to $811.6 million.


Pokies are New Zealand's most harmful form of gambling, with 58 per cent of people seeking help citing it as the primary source of their problem.

But Problem Gambling Foundation acting chief executive Graham Aitken said people were losing interest in pokies.

"I think people are starting to understand you can't win on them."

Young people were especially clued up.

"Machines have been around for a couple of decades now ... younger people don't play these machines. Younger people are a lot cleverer than the rest of us," he said.

Council "sinking lid" policies, which prohibit new licences for pokie venues and stop machines being transferred if a venue closes, had also helped bring figures down, he said.

In other cases, venues had been refurbished to a standard not suitable for pokies.

"They've gone upmarket and pokies machines tend to be associated with downmarket operations."

Even so, pokies were still a big problem for Kiwi gamblers.

"The fact that [expenditure] is going down doesn't mean we can all shut up shop and go home."

Under New Zealand law, 20 per cent of gaming machine profits go on tax, while at least 37 per cent must go back into community projects.