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More problem gamblers seek help

COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 05:00 26/04/2014

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Problem gambling is still an issue in Invercargill but more people are taking steps to ask for help.

Nga Kete Matauranga Pounamu Charitable Trust chief executive Tracey Wright-Tawha said based on first-quarter figures, the number of problem gamblers seeking help was on track to be higher this year than last.

The agency is the sole provider of problem gambling services in Invercargill.

It provides free counselling and works in collaboration with the ILT Foundation to provide a multi-exclusion service, which gives gamblers the choice to be excluded from all gaming machine venues in the area for two years.

Online gambling was becoming increasingly popular but most people seeking support were using pokies and gaming venues, she said.

In the past three months, Nga Kete had received 13 requests for the exclusion services, about half the total for 2013.

Families were under increasing pressure, so problem gamblers were taking more responsibility to be self-excluded, Wright-Tawha said.

There was also more awareness of help services available, which had had an impact on numbers, she said.

There was a stigma associated with problem gambling, so it took "a lot" for someone to ask for help.

"Often they don't realise there is a problem until they can no longer afford rent, power or necessities."

Figures show that in 2012 about $15.4 million was spent on pokies in Invercargill, Wright-Tawha said.

Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand director of business Graham Aitken said more self-exclusion was a good thing for the city.

Nationally, pokie expenditure was dropping - from $839.7m in 2012 to $811.5m last year.

Figures from the ILT Foundation show Invercargill was following the trend - $10.9m was pumped into pokies in Invercargill from September 2012 to September 2013.

As at December 2013, there were 22 venues and 290 pokies in Invercargill, which it says equates to $289.41 lost per person each year. It points out that only 16 per cent of people use pokies in any given year, and just 6 per cent use them monthly or more, so the average loss per pokie user was likely to be much higher.

Although the organisation did not operate in the city any more, it did work with the Invercargill City Council.

A staff member was working on a review of its "sinking lid" policy, which was introduced in 2011 and was due for renewal.

"Over time, this means less harm because there are less machines," he said.

ILT Foundation manager Ann Eustace said the community was more aware of the social impact of gambling and the foundation shared in that commitment to provide safe gaming venues.

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The foundation was acutely aware of its social responsibilities, she said.

"It adheres to a comprehensive gambling harm minimisation policy and undertakes extensive staff training in order to recognise the need for care in dealing with a sensitive product such as gambling."

Invercargill Salvation Army captain Annette Bray said while the Salvation Army did not offer specific gambling services in the south, gambling was a problem.

"There is a big problem in our community, it is so easy to gamble."

For most people it was pokies but for others it was the temptation of winning big on the lotto that kept them gambling, she said.

- The Southland Times

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