Gambling: Kiwis blow almost $1b on the pokies per year - but where could that money be going?

Kiwis blow around $1 billion on the pokies every year - and it's not just impacting New Zealand's most vulnerable families. 

The amount of money wasted on the pokies is also costing the economy to the tune of $500 million, at a time where spending at local businesses is imperative to the country's economic recovery post-COVID.

In New Zealand's most disadvantaged areas, many are tempted to sacrifice what little they have on the off-chance the pokies deliver their 'get rich quick' promises. Yet the amount of money put into the pokies each year could be generating an additional $445 million in retail if people would spend their cash "productively", says Paula Snowden, CEO of the Problem Gambling Foundation.

"It's very clear that the people who are losing money on pokies would spend it elsewhere in the economy," Snowden told The AM Show on Tuesday.

"If that money wasn't going into pokie gambling, what would happen to it?"

  • $445 million in extra retail
  • 1100 additional jobs
  • $58 million in GST
  • $7 million to $7.6 million in income tax.

The shocking statistics show that 50 percent of pokie machines can be found among New Zealand's lowest socio-economic areas, while 30 percent of gambling losses come from 'problem gamblers'. People in disadvantaged communities spend three times more on gambling than those in affluent neighbourhoods.

"Good luck finding a pokie machine on Parnell Rise," Snowden quipped.

In Upper Hutt, a city with a population of 46,000 as of June 2019, roughly $25,000 a day is put into the pokies, Snowden says.

"The money is leaving impoverished communities and walking down the street to support things we enjoy."

Paula Snowden says Kiwis who spend big - and lose more - on the pokies could be putting that money into the economy.
Paula Snowden says Kiwis who spend big - and lose more - on the pokies could be putting that money into the economy. Photo credit: The AM Show / Getty

So what can be done?

Pokie machine numbers need to be gradually reduced in low socio-economic communities producing the most profit for gambling operators - but it requires "ministerial will", says Snowden.

She notes that the Gambling Act 2003 is "strong", but host responsibility is often hard to exercise across all venues, at all times - particularly when young, inexperienced bar staff are dealing with gambling addicts.

A section of the Act does give the Health Minister the right to say where pokie machines can and can't go, on advice from the secretary of the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), which serves as the primary regulator for gambling.

According to the DIA, there are provisions within the Gambling Act for councils to manage the impacts and limit the opportunities for gambling in their communities - for example, a territorial authority considering whether to include a relocation policy in its class 4 venue policy (the policy governing venues operating class 4 gaming machines, or pokies), must consider "the social impact of gambling in high-deprivation communities within its district". 

"It's time we look at not where the money goes, but who's losing it," Snowden said.

According to gambling expenditure statistics released by the DIA, $924 million was lost by gamblers on gaming machines (outside casinos) for the 2018/2019 financial year. Gambling operators also made $616 million in profit for the 2018/2019 financial year from casino activity.