Northlanders spent $7.4 million on pokie machines in the first quarter of this year, or just over $82,000 a day, as a significant investment to prevent and minimise harm caused by gambling is announced.
Figures from the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) show Northlanders sank $82,222 a day on Class 4 gaming machines in the first quarter, compared with $7.9m, or $87,777 daily, in the December quarter.
A staggering $36m was spent on pokie machines in Northland last year compared with $32.7m the year before.
Societies that give grants from pokie machine profits in Northland include the Oxford Sports Trust, Four Winds Foundation, Grassroots Trust, Pub Charity, Rano Community Trust, The Lion Foundation, Pelorus Trust, Trillian Trust, Bluesky Community Trust, Grassroots Trust and Kaiwaka Sports Association.
The Government is investing $76m into a new Strategy to Prevent and Minimise Gambling Harm nationwide that will include education initiatives to reduce harm to young people, and better support given to vulnerable communities including Māori, Pasifika and Asians.
"Gambling harm is a serious public health issue and can have a devastating effect on the wellbeing of individuals, whānau and communities. One in five New Zealanders will experience gambling harm in their lives, or know someone close who does," Health Minister Andrew Little said.
The strategy will also include new and expanded digital services and supports, and a de-stigmatisation initiative to help change the conversation around gambling harm and encourage people to seek help.
Whangārei-based Ngā Manga Puriri, specialists in problem gambling and addiction services in Northland, is supportive of the Government's strategy towards combating the problem.
Practice lead Cordelia Waetford said since there were a lot of barriers preventing gamblers from accessing treatment, strategies brought hope for initiatives such as korero around gambling harm.
"We know pokies are the most harmful form of gambling, and funding is necessary for us to continue our work in reaching marginalised and targeted groups that are the most vulnerable."
Waetford said while the Covid lockdown reduced pokie spending as gamblers could not access gaming machines, other forms of gambling continued, especially those online.
Other social problems such as drug and alcohol abuse increased during the lockdown, she said.
The Health Minister said the new funding and strategy aligned with gambling harm prevention and minimisation efforts, along with reforms to the health and disability system and the new mental health system the government was building.
"Effective regulation of gambling means we can deal with harms including financial problems, relationship problems, family violence, and alcohol abuse."
The Strategy to Prevent and Minimise Gambling Harm will be funded by a problem gambling levy paid by non-casino gaming machine operators, casinos, TAB NZ and the New Zealand Lotteries Commission.
Last year, Northlanders spent $9.7m in the first quarter on pokies, $10.4m in the second quarter, $8.2m in the third and $7.9m in the last quarter.
People having problems with gambling should seek help from the Salvation Army Oasis on 0800 530 000, through salvationarmy.org.nz, the Gambling Helpline on 0800 654 655 or gamblinghelpline.co.nz.