It can start with an expectation of fairness.
Wearing ‘lucky socks’. Praying. Kissing the machine. Thinking ‘it must be my turn to win’.
There’s an expectation that everything’s fair and everyone gets an equal chance, Bonnie Lovich-Howitt says, but the reality of life doesn’t mimic that.
She is the practice leader for the MidCentral region at PGF Services.
PGF Services helps problem gamblers and their families, helping an average of 15 Palmerston North people a week via its free counselling service.
It started as the Compulsive Gambling Society close to 30 years ago, and from there became the Problem Gambling Foundation.
Now it is simply PGF Services, to “take the ‘problem’ out of the name to try to help reduce the stigma and shame that people feel around their gambling”, Lovich-Howitt says.
Gambling is a billion-dollar industry, she says, with the financial statistics covering Lotto, pokie machines and the TAB, but not overseas-owned online gambling sites.
“In Palmerston North alone, we spend $59,000 a day on pokie machines.”
Not everyone who gambles has a problem, and social gambling can do minimal to no harm if it’s sporadic and there’s a budget, she says.
It becomes a problem – even an addiction – for different reasons.
People spend more money than anticipated because there is a jackpot: “I’ll just borrow that $100 from the power bill over here, because the jackpot’s about to go off.”
This can become a cycle, leading to debt and “chasing the loss” because they’ve already lost money and they’re trying to get it back.
For others, it’s about repeating the cycle of gambling in their families, and even grieving for a lost relative they used to go with to the races or TAB.
“They keep going back there because that’s where they feel close to them.”
PGF Services offers a range of support for people who want to reduce their spending or take a break from gambling.
One option is self-exclusion - to ban yourself from gambling venues – making it the venue’s equal responsibility for the person not to be gambling.
You can’t cash out of a self-ban, so forfeit all your money.
Others want different ways of managing their money, so they might give a loved one access to their accounts to see how they’re spending their money.
In addition to counselling, PGF Services talks to businesses about developing workplace policies, and to councils, banks and other organisations about problem gambling.
One person experiencing harm from gambling will affect five to 10 people.
“We hold hope for every single person that walks in the door, and we believe that every single person can make a change in their life,” Lovich-Howitt says.
This profile of a Te Pū Harakeke - Community Collective Manawatū member organisation is part of an occasional series.
Sonya Holm is a freelance journalist based in Palmerston North.