Gamblers blow 40k a day

$14.5 million lost on city pokies every year: report

Last updated 23:26 21/04/2008
BARRY HARCOURT/ID 123587
HELP IS AT HAND: Eru Loach holding up a pokie machine Help card that the gambling health worker hopes will encourage Invercargill's pokie machine addicts to seek help.

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Invercargill people lost about $40,000 a day gambling on pokie machines and the problem was escalating, experts said.

A Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand report says an estimated $14.5 million is lost each year on pokies in Invercargill. That's about $40,000 a day.

The Nga Kete Matauranga Pounamu Charitable Trust, which helps problem pokie machine gamblers in the city, recently hired a second fulltime counsellor to try meeting the demand of those seeking help.

The trust and the ILT Foundation yesterday put thousands of gambling Help cards beside the 189 pokie machines in the 12 invercargill Licensing Trust pubs and clubs that have them. The cards remind gamblers of their addiction and include phone numbers to ring for help.

Nga Kete trust gambling health worker Eru Loach said Invercargill's pokie machine gambling problem was a lot bigger than most people probably realised, and it was increasing.

"The new pokie machines are seeing people losing copious amounts of money very quickly. It's a very quick money-making scheme." One of the trust's two fulltime counsellors, Brenda-Lee Denniston, said she was helping 35 pokie machine addicts in the city and her counterpart Diane Mowat was counselling another 20.

However, those 55 people were just the tip of the iceberg, Ms Denniston said.

"There's a lot more out there that have got this problem." The addiction was wrecking lives, homes were being lost because of mortgages not being paid and families were being torn apart, she said.

Though addicts came from all walks of life, loneliness and depression played a big part in many people taking up the habit.

"They see this as a way of escaping from what's happening in their lives. It's really addictive. It hooks into a pleasure zone in their brains." A city pokie machine gambling addict, Doreen Whakamoe, 40, said she had noticed many more teenagers on pokie machines in recent years. The addiction had ruined her life and she welcomed any initiative that would help her and others break the habit.

ILT Foundation manager Ann Eustace said if its trained staff saw someone spending excessive time and money on pokie machines they would give gamblers the option of barring themselves from ILT premises.

If they refused they would be barred, she said. At least 20 people had agreed to bar themselves during the past year, she said.

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People with a discretionary income had the right to gamble but the licensing trust went the "extra mile" to assist people with the problem, she said.

The trust gave 55 percent of pokie machine profits back to the community, she said.

Mr Loach said pokie machines were good entertainment for most people but for others they were addictive. "For those people the cards are being put beside the machines to encourage them to get help. The wording on the cards is a subtle way of reminding people they are spending too much money on the pokie machines."

- The Southland Times

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