The amount of money Northlanders funnelled in to pokie machines in the first three months of this year has increased, despite the number of machines falling.

Data on gaming proceed expenditure released by the Department of Internal Affairs showed Northlanders spent more than $8 million on pokies from January to the end of March this year, compared with more than $7.2m in the same period last year.

The Far North District experienced an increase of 4.7 per cent in pokie spend from this time last year and the Whangarei District an increase of 0.81 per cent.

Thanks to the sinking lid policy, Whangarei lost 78 pokie machines during that period and the Far North lost 10.

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Interestingly, the Kaipara District pokie spend was down by 4.12 per cent and it was the only district in Northland that did not lose any pokie machines in the year gone.

Nga Manga Puriri manager and problem gambling practitioner Marino Murphy said this indicates the sinking lid policy is simply not working.

"If there are fewer machines that doesn't really mean anything, the expenditure is even higher and that's just reflective of the nature of the addiction."

Murphy said she and other agencies plan to challenge the sinking lid policy this year and make submissions against it, because it clearly is not working.

"We want to look at something more robust than that, we're not sure at this moment but we're getting together to discuss it as providers."

Kaitaia-based GP and former New Zealander of the year Dr Lance O'Sullivan called for a ban on pokie machines earlier this year.

Gambling harm is reflected in poverty statistics, housing inequalities and mental health, with Maori being disproportionately affected, he said.

Whangarei-based Oxford Sports Trust member Don Armitage told the Northern Advocate that statistics showed between 0.3 per cent and 1.8 per cent of adult New Zealanders were deemed to be problem gamblers.

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The trust operates 191 electronic gaming machines in Northland.

Armitage said its venue operators identified problem gamblers and excluded them from the venues.

Northlanders spent $32.8m on all forms of gambling last year, including pokie machines and Lotto tickets, up $1.1m on the previous year, according to figures.

Northlanders gambled $7.8m in the first quarter of last year, rising to $8.2m in the second quarter, $8.2m in the third and $8.4m in the fourth.

At the end of 2017 there were 305 gaming machines in the Far North, 283 in Whangarei and 60 in the Kaipara.

Murphy said while those who sought help made good progress, a lot of gambling addicts were too embarrassed to come forward.

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"Over a couple of days in February we received 15 referrals, which was very high, and shows the problem has become worse over the years. Normally we receive between three to five people a month.

''Gambling is something that you can't see, you can't smell and it goes undetected until you hit rock bottom."

Murphy supported calls for pokie machines to be banned.

She urged people having problems with gambling to seek help by contacting the Salvation Army Oasis on 0800 530 000, through salvationarmy.org.nz, the Gambling Helpline on 0800 654 655 or gamblinghelpline.co.nz