Kiwi gamblers lost more than $843 million in pokies in the last year - the largest amount lost since 2012 - prompting an addiction researcher to question efforts taken by authorities to reduce gambling harm.
Government figures showed the $843.5m lost on electronic gaming machines - pokies - in the year to June 2016 was higher than any other 12-month period since September 2012, despite there being 1500 fewer machines nationwide.
This was in contrast to steady declines in pokie revenues since 2004. This year's figure was $25.4m - 3.1 per cent - higher than the previous 12 months.
The 16,250 machines throughout the country made an average of $51,900 each - around the same as the average full-time Kiwi worker earned.
These figures represented gamblers' net loss - the total amount wagered minus any winnings or payouts.
Associate director of Auckland University's Centre for Addiction Research Peter Adams 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.
"We could do very simple things to the environment... to make them less likely to facilitate problem gambling. We're doing the opposite. We've continued to create and support these environments without questioning what they're about.
"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."
Manager of Tauranga's Salvation Army Bridge and Oasis programme Daryl Wesley said there had been a significant recent spike in gamblers asking for help.
"In the last six to eight weeks, we have seen more people walk in off the street seeking support for problem gambling than we had seen in the six months previous to that," Mr Wesley said.
"Pokie machines are kind of seen as the crack cocaine of gambling."
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.
The Ministry of Health spent about $18.1 million in 2015/16 on gambling harm minimisation across all areas - casinos, betting, Lotto and pokies - down from $18.5m a year earlier.
Rotorua's Ruck 'n' Maul Sports Bar owner Henry Mitchell said they had seen a slight increase in the number of people using their pokie machines because they now opened earlier, at 8am.
He said one or two people came in about 8.30am, but stayed half an hour at the most.
"Hopefully they are here for fun and enjoyment rather than spending their last dollar."
He said his staff were trained in harm minimisation and looked for signs of problem gambling.
Gaming legislation required owners of class 4 machines - pokies - to distribute a minimum of 40 per cent of proceeds as grants. The Crown took 20 per cent of proceeds as a levy, and 1.51 per cent of proceeds were directed to problem gambling support services.
Chief executive of community gaming trust Lion Foundation Murray Reade said:
"We take problem gambling very seriously, and do the very best we can to ensure the distribution of the money that comes from gambling is done to achieve the best outcome for the community."
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