Western Bay punters are spending more on the pokies, with almost $35m poured into machines in the last 12 months despite the total number of machines dropping in recent years.
The latest Department of Internal Affairs figures revealed as at September 2015 there were 713 pokie machines operating at 52 venues in the region - that's 110 less than a decade ago.
Pokie spending for the July to September 2015 quarter totalled $8,988,230 - $184,733 more than the same quarter last year.
In the year to September 30, punters spent $34,791,343 on the pokies in this region, compared to $33,530,804 the previous 12 months - $1,260,539 more, or a 3.75 per cent increase.
National spending has gone up by almost 2 per cent to nearly $824 million.
Problem Gambling Foundation communications director Andree Froude said the foundation was a little surprised that the pokies spend was up.
"We hope this increase is a one-off blip as the spending on pokies had been trending down since 2004 from over a billion dollars to $806 million nationally in 2014 ... We know pokie machines are by far the most harmful form of gambling. These machines are highly addictive."
Ms Froude said playing the pokies may start out as a bit of entertainment but for some it becomes a compulsion.
"Conservatively it's estimated that 40 per cent of people who lose on the pokies are problem gamblers," she said.
At Settler's Bar in Wharf St, manager Cilla Brown said there were strict host rules requiring staff to monitor punters spending behaviours and the bar set a cash out limit of $300.
That included doing a walk around of the machines every 15 to 20 minutes to check punters were okay and anyone looking stressed was encouraged to take a break or go home, she said.
"But if someone comes in and tells us that they're spending their last $20 it's a major concern, and if the player then tries to take out more cash to play we will say no. But we know of course if this person has a gambling problem they'll probably head straight to an ATM and go elsewhere."
The bar had a folder of names and photos of punters excluded from other establishments which included people who had excluded themselves after seeking help, she said.
A 44-year-old Tauranga mother of one playing the pokies in the bar said she came for a flutter no more than once a week and sets herself a $20 limit.
The mother said she had been playing for about 10 years, and used to play far more often and spent far more but reduced the frequency and spend after she realised she had a "bit of a problem".
"Now when I have lost my $20 I have the willpower to get up and leave, but even if I win a substantial amount I will stop playing and take my winnings and go home."
Alistair Herring, national director of Salvation Army's Oasis Gambling Services, said the spending increase highlighted the importance of effective harm minimisation measures.
Signs of a gambling problem
Losing more money than you can afford, on a regular basis
Lying about where the money is going
Borrowing money to gamble or pay debts
Using money meant for household bills and food to gamble
Craving a high from your gambling ¦Being evasive about money or gambling
If gambling is a problem phone the Salvation Army Oasis Gambling Services on 578 9329, call the Problem Gaming Foundation hotline on 0800 66 42 62 or email email@example.com