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‘Pokies are destroying our community’

It is Gambling Harm Awareness Week and Gisborne will be without a problem gambling support service for another month.

Problem Gambling Foundation organised 82 pubs and clubs from Whangarei to Bluff to “pause the pokies” for an hour to bring awareness to the harm gambling causes in communities.

But pokie machines in Gisborne have kept going as usual because no venue in the region is taking part.

“It is mostly due to the fact there is no longer a dedicated gambling harm minimisation service in Gisborne and we don’t have the capacity to cover every region in the country,” Problem Gambling Foundation spokeswoman Andree Froude said.

Several Gisborne venues took part in Pause the Pokies last year, with Te Ara Tika Tairawhiti Gambling Services coordinating the campaign locally.

“Te Ara Tika is no longer there and we have no staff in the area. It has been too difficult to coordinate,” Ms Froude said.

Nati4Life Trust manager Tuta Ngarimu says problem gamblers are asking for help on Facebook because they don’t know where to go.

“It is such a ridiculous situation to be in. There are really heavy problem gamblers putting their hands up to reach out for support and there’s absolutely no support for them.

“Pausing a pokie for one hour is ridiculous. We should close down all pokie venues in New Zealand forever. That’s the only way to make a major change in gambling habits.

“Gisborne had Te Ara Tika Trust support group set up here for a while, which was a big help, but it wasn’t resourced enough to do the kind of work needed in Gisborne.”

Mr Ngarimu had a meeting with Problem Gambling Foundation in Auckland after the service got closed down in September 2018.

“We pleaded with them that this service needed to be funded or a new service needs to be put in place.

“Pokies are absolutely destroying our community.”

There was a big gap in support here and no one seemed to care, he said.

Ministry of Health addictions manager Richard Taylor said the Ministry recently contracted Hauora Tairawhiti to provide gambling harm minimisation counselling and public health services in the region.

“The contract commenced on August 1, with full services due to start on November 1 to allow for its establishment, staff recruitment and training.

“The Ministry explored a number of options for a new problem gambling service in the Gisborne region including both Gisborne-based services and coverage from external providers.

“An essential point for the Ministry was that a service to prevent and minimise gambling harm in Tairawhiti takes a kaupapa Maori approach and can work alongside local iwi.

“The Ministry has also worked with a range of providers to ensure the people of Tairawhiti are able to access face-to-face and telehealth services in the interim,” said Mr Taylor.

“Continued support for people experiencing gambling harm has been available through the 24/7 Gambling Helpline and the Problem Gambling Foundation has also provided counselling.”

‘PAUSE THE POKIES’: Pubs and clubs throughout the country are taking part in “Pause the Pokies” for an hour during Gambling Harm Awareness Week. However, there are no venues in Gisborne involved because there is no dedicated gambling harm minimisation service here to co-ordinate it.