Christchurch gambling culture revealed 24 August 2013
Flashing lights, loud noises and an instant hit.

It’s no wonder gaming machines have been labelled the “crack cocaine” of gambling.

Non-casino pokie machines are causing serious damage to communities, prompting the Government to announce a $55.3 million strategy to help combat problem gambling.

Christchurch, with the most number of venues and pokie machines of any major centre in New Zealand, remains right at the heart of the raging issue.

Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) figures show Christchurch is still down 400 non-casino pokie machines since before the earthquakes, but gambling on the machines hasn’t taken the same hit.

Salvation Army Oasis Centre for problem gambling co-ordinator Tony Foster said it had seen a “huge influx” in clients over the past 18 months.

“We’ve had a lot of people coming in at absolute crisis point,” he said.

“Canterbury has a lot of pokie machines and a lot of people who are suffering from issues.”

Sport in New Zealand is propped up by around $180 million in gambling revenue each year, creating a cycle of dependency health experts have likened to big tobacco sponsorship.

While proceeds from Lotto and a levy on TAB sports betting boost the bank balances of most national sports bodies and help fund high performance athletes, pokie gaming trusts are by far the biggest contributor.

The Mt Wellington Warriors league club made a stand against pokie money.

It ripped the machines out of its Thompson Park clubrooms and turned its back on trust grants.

“A lot of the parents can’t buy boots for their kids. They are saying they haven’t got the money, and that they can’t get them to the games because they can’t get money for petrol,” club chairman Dean Kini said.

A controversial pokie trust paid out nearly $100,000 to a racing group to buy a small piece of racetrack from one of its own club members.

The grant made to Gallop South – thoroughbred racing’s umbrella body for Southland and Otago – was then paid to the Oamaru Jockey Club to buy a section of the Oamaru racecourse.

The move has been slammed by industry sources as “pure naked greed” and a “desperate way” to grab pokie funds.