Pain of pokies

JAMES IRELAND
Last updated 07:28 05/02/2013
Gamblers
TOUGH STANCE: One former gambler says whatever is being done to deter gamblers hitting pokie machines around West Auckland is not enough.

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Michael Demchy realised he had a gambling problem after losing a whole month's wages in a single night.

"That was 15 years ago and that was when I went to get help," he says.

"Since then I have been on and off gambling. I have had periods of a couple of years where I haven't gambled and right now it's been 18 months.

"I'm only now at the point that I can really understand why I gamble. It's a whole range of things that causes it. It can be something a girl said to you when you were 16 or your Dad leaving when you were a kid," he says.

The 48-year-old office manager from Titirangi estimates he has spent $100,000 gambling over 20 years.

"The thing that keeps you coming back is the rush, that adrenaline surge is amazing when you win, it's better than sex," Mr Demchy says.

"It comes with a flip side though. The highs are incredible but the lows are horrendous. Just before I stopped I was going to the pub across the road from my work and gambling at every break I had through the day.

"Sometimes I would be looking for spare change down the back of the couch to buy food," he says.

Auckland Council has a proposed policy for public consultation which would introduce Auckland-wide rules to limit TAB venues and pokie machine sites.

The number of TAB outlets would be limited to the current 43. Four are in West Auckland. The sinking lid policy would mean no new venues could install pokies and if a venue with them closed, the number allowed would reduce.

One venue wouldn't be allowed to take machines if it relocated but two could merge with the number of machines at the resulting site limited to five-sixths of the combined total before the merger.

Mr Demchy says it's a positive step but not enough.

"When I started hitting the pokies in the early '90s you could only put in 20 cent coins and you could only bet one at a time.

"It was really time-consuming. Now you can just keep feeding in $20 notes and you can quite easily bet $10 a spin.

"If we changed it back to the way it was I think it would help the problem," he says.

West Auckland has 36 venues with a total of 480 pokie machines.

Department of Internal Affairs figures show $8.59 million was spent on them between July and September 2012 and $212.9 million was spent nationwide.

Problem Gambling Foundation national manager of public health Tony Milne says more than 70 per cent of those who seek help for a gambling problem say pokies are their main form of gambling.

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"Eighty per cent who seek help have suicidal thoughts.

"We know the harm that pokies can cause and don't want them to be part of the future for our children," he says.

Go to aucklandcouncil. govt.nz/haveyoursay or pick up a submission form at libraries, council service centres or local board offices.

Submissions close at 4pm on Thursday, February 28.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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