A former SkyCity casino customer says his pokies addiction was so entrenched he'd avoid water or drinks so he wouldn't have to go to the toilet and leave his machine.
The man, named Hamish*, claimed he regularly played continuously for seven to eight hours straight in the Auckland casino without staff asking he have a break.
"I just don't want to see anyone else put themselves in debt the way that I did, and it took many years to clear it by swiping out most of your money from your account," Hamish told Newshub.
In 2016, 2017, and again in 2021, he said he played and played. SkyCity's rules state if anyone's observed gaming for five hours or more, staff should get them to take a 30-minute break.
Hamish claimed he'd play well beyond five hours and no one would interrupt.
"No," Hamish said, when asked if he was ever encouraged to take a break by staff. "I can also tell you that that didn't happen ever when I was ever there for any of those nights."
He claimed he went to the casino two to three nights a week, only stopping the next morning to head into work.
"I would be running home to get quickly changed and go to work. So that's how focused I was on the game and not focused really on life."
He said he'd never take breaks of his own accord.
"Oh, God no, because you're terrified that your machine would be taken," Hamish said.
Gambling expert Associate Professor Maria Bellringer said that's not unusual.
"It's like a substance addiction, an alcohol or drug addiction. It changes the biochemistry and neurochemistry in the brain," said Bellringer, who is also the director of Auckland University of Technology's Gambling and Addictions Research Centre.
"People dissociate from the real world."
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Hamish said he'd choose machines closest to the toilet so he could spend as much time as possible playing.
"I didn't even have a water, I didn't have anything, because I knew it would take me away from the machines," he said.
"Normally I could hold for about six and a half hours. So normally after that, if I knew I was losing, I went to the toilet as quickly as I could."
Hamish was happy for SkyCity to release any information it had about his gambling.
SkyCity said they wouldn't answer Newshub's questions until Hamish provided them with a Privacy Act information request, which he did, but still nothing from the casino.
However, a spokesperson said from 2017, facial recognition technology was introduced, and from 2022, a team of hosts dedicated to monitoring and interacting with customers was put in place.
In the 2023 financial year, 683 customers were excluded from the Auckland casino. The company also identified 737 excluded customers who tried to re-enter the casino.
But Hamish doesn't believe SkyCity's systems are truly aimed at helping the vulnerable.
"Remember, SkyCity doesn't really care about you as a person. It's your money that they're focused on and when that's gone there will be another number that will fill your spot."
He said if you're worried that number could be you, he urges people to get help.