A Hawke's Bay problem gambling service has had a jump in addicts seeking help as Bay gamers poured an extra $2 million into pokies last year.
Government figures showed Bay gamblers lost $37.5m on pokies in the 12 months to June. Napier users lost $17m, Hastings $16.1m, Wairoa $2.6m and Central Hawke's Bay $1.8m.
This was more than $2m more than the June 2015 year, despite six fewer gaming machines across the region.
These figures represented gamblers' net loss - the total amount wagered minus any winnings or payouts.
Annette Harris, manager for problem gambling service provider Te Rangihaeata Oranga Trust, said the real scale of gambling was being ignored.
"There are a whole lot of people in the public that don't want to hear about it. It's a big secret. It's a big, huge secret," Ms Harris said.
"Everybody knows there's a lot of gambling, but nobody wants to talk about it."
Ms Harris said she thought people didn't understand how serious gambling was in the Bay because much of it was hidden from view.
"It's not like alcohol, you're not being affected physically. It's not like violence, where you could be hurting someone else physically. All the hurt is on the inside."
Hastings' 287 machines each earned more than $56,000 annually - significantly more than the average Kiwi worker earned. Napier's 304 machines took in just under $56,000 each.
Gaming legislation required class 4 machine owners - 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.
The Ministry of Health spent about $18.5 million annually on gambling harm minimisation across all areas - casinos, betting, Lotto and pokies.
Associate director of the University of Auckland's Centre for Addiction Studies, Peter Adams, said simple steps could be taken by local or central authorities to reduce gambling harm.
But he said there were too many groups with a "high reliance" on the proceeds of gambling to expect any meaningful change.
"I can't see things changing in any significant way until community groups and the Government say we are not comfortable accepting money from problem gamblers.
"That's highly unlikely because people are very invested in it. People have come to rely on funding from that source.
"I think these are dangerous machines that have the capacity to ruin people's lives, so I think we should be treating them like other harmful products, and looking very carefully at them."