The amount Northlanders squandered on pokies dropped nearly 6 per cent to $29 million in the last year.

But a new commission structure that will see venue owners profit from the machines is raising fears they will have an incentive to promote gambling.

Department of Internal Affairs figures show the amount Northland gamblers dropped into the pokies in the year to March fell nearly 6 per cent from the $30.9 million spent the previous year. The Far North experienced the biggest drop in spending, plunging 9.4 per cent, while Whangarei dipped 2.8 per cent and Kaipara 0.3 per cent.

Meanwhile, the number of gaming venues across the region rose from 60 to 61, bringing the number of machines up from 707 to 730 year-on-year.

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Nga Manga Puriri gambling services programme manager Marino Murphy said Northland communities wouldn't benefit at all from the changes.

And putting 80 per cent of profits back into regional council areas where it was spent - announced by Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne - would only encourage more gambling.

"People see it and think, 'Well that's good, let's go and play pokies, we'll lose and we'll be giving back to the community'." Despite the drop in Northland's machine spend, problem gambling in the region was still at "crisis" levels, Ms Murphy said.

In the year to March, machine numbers fell from 17,542 to 17,182 nationwide and losses fell 2.1 per cent to $811.6 million.

Mr Dunne announced pokie operators would now be allowed to earn a commission on gambling proceeds, overturning a clause in the 2003 Gambling Act that banned venues and operators from profiting from the machines.

Problem Gambling Foundation marketing and communications director Andree Froude said since 2003, operators have only been able to claim "actual, reasonable and necessary" expenses up to 16 per cent.

Details of the new commission structure were yet to be negotiated, but the devil would be in the detail, she said.

"We want to see the money go back into the community where it's come from given obviously a lot of these machines are situated in lower socio-economic areas."

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The new policy will lift payouts to the community from the current minimum of 37.12 per cent of pokie proceeds to 42 per cent over the next five years.

Community Gaming Association director Brian Corbett said the industry welcomed a commission-based system because proving actual costs was clumsy and difficult to process.