Pokies data shines light on NZ’s big spenders

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
Pokies data shines light on NZ’s big spenders

New pokies expenditure data from New Zealand revealed that residents of some towns are spending big on the machines.

Stuff reports that data analysis company Dot Loves Data took poke machine profits and measured them against small groups of up to a half dozen pubs and overlaid them with demographic data of the surrounding 5 kilometre radius.

That produced the five biggest spending locations per head, all in high-deprivation areas: Kawakawa, Wairoa, Opotiki, Rotorua and Whakatane.

They also calculated that of the $987 million total annual pokies spend, $128 million or 13 per cent was spent by the poorest 10 per cent of the population and that 63 per cent overall was spent by the poorest 50 per cent of New Zealanders.

In contrast, the richest 10 per cent spent $45 million or 4.6 per cent, despite its significantly higher income.

The average spend of the poorest Kiwis was $380 a year, while for the wealthiest, it was $129.

By ethnicity, it regarded Pasifika as the biggest spender, with an average of $264 a head, Maori at $232, Asian at $218 and Pakeha at $188.

Problem gambling advocates weigh in on pokies figures

“It’s incredibly tragic for the community that so much has been spent in an area and it’s not the only area in the country that has spending levels that big, but it is the one that stands out,” says Dot Loves Data government relations director Justin Lester.

“There’s no refuting it: all of the evidence suggests that pokies target the most deprived members of the community.”

Problem Gambling Foundation communications director Andree Froude said the data is “absolutely” irrefutable proof that pokies disproportionately affect the poor.

The figures show a “significant” spend on pokies, and it’s money coming from people who can’t afford to lose it.

“If this money wasn’t being lost on pokies, it would be spent in the community at local businesses and retail outlets.”

Froude says it highlights an “inequitable and unethical” pokie funding system which draws so much of its charitable funds from the poorest Kiwis.

Marino Murphy, manager of the Nga Manga Puriri problem gambling service, which covers Northland, was astounded when told the headline figure: “That is unbelievable, isn’t it?”

But she has a simple answer: “It’s poverty. We can’t get away from that. With all the clients I’ve had in that area, the story is ‘we don’t get enough money from the benefit, so I just need to crack it to get out of the hole’.

“They only want to be good parents…to have food in the cupboard every day: it’s a simple necessity our people are not able to get…gambling to them is a quick fix, and it puts them in a deeper hole. The majority of clients think it’s a way out.”

Pokies industry reacts to new data

The pokies industry has reacted angrily to the new data.

Chairman of industry body Gaming Machine Association Peter Dengate-Thrush said $1000 a year, “is not a huge amount of money”.

“There is a lot of elitism here: people go into the casino and spend a large amount of money and are regarded as James Bond sophisticates, but for some reason people who go…spend $40 or $50 on a gaming machine are seen as unworthy and people who need to be protected from themselves.

“There’s a group of people who can afford to go skiing for a weekend at $1000 a day, and nobody complains they’ve spent that sliding around a mountain to get their form of pleasure. What’s the problem with people spending a few hours a week choosing this form of entertainment?”

Dengate-Thrush said people will always gamble, but the pokies industry has created a safe, regulated environment for that to happen, which mostly returns money back to local communities. 

He said it’s accepted as “economic fact” that pokies are a “form of entertainment that is available to people in lower socio-economic groups” but commentary that implies they need protecting from themselves is “paternalistic or even racist”.

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