An addiction to playing the pokies is like "electronic morphine or crack cocaine", a Marton community group was told last week.
Nga Tai O Te Awa health advisers and counsellors showed a group of 20 people in Marton a hard-hitting Australian film on problem gambling titled Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation.
Problem Gambling counsellor and educator Margaret Ryniker works collaboratively with Nga Tai O Te Awa in Whanganui to bring awareness around the perils of gambling.
"Showing the movie Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation clearly shows the public how pokies are programmed. "It's shocking and people need to know," she said.
The pokie machine was described in the film by an Australian gambling researcher, Dr Charles Livingstone, as "the perfect addiction machine".
"They're rigged, they're addictive and they're everywhere. They've got almost half a million Australians hooked - and that's just what they're designed to do," he said.
In the ground-breaking expose, even industry insiders spoke on the record to explain how carefully pokies are programmed for addiction.
The film not only told just the story of the human misery caused by addiction to pokie machines but investigated the work of the mathematicians, musicians and designers who use their talents to ensure people keep playing down to their last dollar.
The film was riveting and showed global experts explaining how the "fantasy of the spinning wheels" had people hypnotised and transported into the "zone".
An Australian game designer, Brett Jackson, said they kept on "building better mouse-traps" while a club owner boasted how welcome they made their customers: "We call them 'sir' and 'madam', and provide plush surroundings - better than what they have at home."
One addict, an older woman, said going to the club to play the pokies was like a social outing.
"You put on your good clothes and there's always a group to sit with. It's a lovely outing. "But now I've lost everything. It wasn't worth it, I don't understand why I did it."
In a discussion afterwards - led by Mrs Ryniker and Nga Tai O Te Awa project co-ordinator Hine Potaka-Gardiner - the group said the facts shown in the film had horrified them.
Mrs Potaka-Gardiner said the latest statistics of problem gambling throughout the Rangitikei region - which covers Taihape, Hunterville, Marton and Bulls - showed that last year about $7 million to $8 million went out of the district from 70 pokie machines.
In the Whanganui district, $10 million went out of the district from 230 machines in 15 venues, she said.
"It is a huge addiction for too many people."