New Zealanders who use pokies are being harmed through the targeting of vulnerable communities and machines deliberately designed to entice harmful gambling behaviour, says The Salvation Army.
The latest figures from the Department of Internal Affairs show $870 million was spent on pokies last year-increasing for the third year in a row despite there being fewer machines.
This continues a trend of increasing spend on pokies since 2014, driven in part by the destructive design features of the pokie machines, The Salvation Army's head of Addiction Services Lieutenant Colonel Lynette Hutson says.
"The design of these machines is highly sophisticated and uses machine and game characteristics to encourage risky gambling behaviour.
"Research shows the number of people gambling is reducing, but the number gambling harmfully remains stable and it is suggested this may be due to changes in the design of pokie machines."
Independent research needs to be carried out focused on the impact of design features to help develop effective consumer protection strategies, she says.
A disproportionate amount of that harm is being felt by our poorest communities, as the machines continue to be targeted to our most vulnerable people, says Lynette.
"These people are already vulnerable and their communities are saturated with machines.
"It becomes a vicious cycle preying on their vulnerability. They're more likely to gamble, because there are more machines available in those communities and they are more likely to fall prey to them."
The department's figures show only a third of money spent on pokies was returned to the community through gaming machine trusts last year, meaning the vast majority of what New Zealanders gamble is lost to taxes and operating costs.
A report for the Ministry of Health last year showed gambling causes almost three times as much harm to New Zealanders as drug disorders, as well as the individual lives that are ruined, Lt-Col Hutson says.
"The stigma and the shame destroy people and prevent them from getting the help they need."
She urged people to seek help by contacting The Salvation Army Oasis on 0800 53 00 00 or through salvationarmy.org.nz, or Gambling Helpline on 0800 654 655 or gamblinghelpline.co.nz