PROBLEM gambling is an illness and needs to be treated with the same compassion and community care as any other addiction, an Invercargill Workingmen’s Club representative says.
Club general manager Simon Anderson said he was tired of seeing gambling harm advertising depict people struggling with the addiction in a “negative light”.
“They don’t portray the issues behind problem gambling, whether it’s work or home pressures, it never deals with what causes them to do it in the first place.
“We should be giving more help to these people so they don’t feel like they have to hide in shame.”
As a club with 24 machines, it was important for staff to look out for their members and confront them if they noticed a problem developing, he said.
“We care. I’m not going to tell people to just go for it.
“We know our regulars and clientele so we can check on them if they’re spending too much time on the machines.”
Government legislation also meant venue staff had to do walk-throughs of pokie rooms every 15 minutes, he said.
“We have to document it, if I start seeing a problem, I’ll approach them and check-in by having a casual conversation – from there we can refer them to counselling.
“The goal is to start the conversation early so they will be ready to talk when they really need to.”
People did not want to talk about gambling harm and instead used guilt tripping which was unfair and ineffective, he said.
“We really want to get it out there that there is help.
“I’ve seen people go through counselling who will only play the pokies now once in a blue moon.”
While he was passionate about dealing with the stigma around gambling harm, he did not believe the problem was the machines.
“There’s a small minority that’s caught in it but advertising has helped drive it underground.
“If it wasn’t for the pokies, we wouldn’t have Rugby Park or Splash Palace [which were built with the money].”
In order to address the issue and support Southlanders who were struggling with it, the club was working with agencies across the region, including Nga Kete Matauranga Pounamu Charitable Trust (NKMP) and the ILT.
“We can’t do what we do [to address gambling harm] without the support of those organisations.”
One of the initiatives he was most passionate about was Pause the Pokies – a nationwide campaign the trio openly promoted in the community, and encouraged other establishments with machines to get on-board with.
The campaign encouraged other pokie machine hosts to Pause the Pokies and open up shop an hour later than usual, to raise awareness about problem gambling.
NKMP gambling harm public health kaimahi (employee) Eru Loach said the organisation had a contract with the Ministry of Health to provide counselling and support to those struggling with problem gambling and their whanau, as well as provide health promotion support in the community.
“This includes the development of healthy policies to reduce and minimise gambling harm regarding their own work spaces and environment.
“[We] work alongside each local council to strengthen their respective Class 4 gambling policies [and] work collectively with the gambling sector to encourage strong gambling harm policies and procedures, including referral pathways to our organisation and other services…”
The more people understood gambling harm and the factors which led to it, the more opportunities there would be to work collectively to support each other, Mr Loach said.
“It is not the individual’s responsibility alone to address, it is our collective responsibility and whanau members, as friends, as work colleagues, as people in decision-making positions and as New Zealanders that care for each other.
“We have had a tough year and we want people to stay connected with people they know and care about, and, if necessary, with specialist services.”
ILT chief executive Chris Ramsay said there were nine ILT venues with pokie machines on-site.
While the legislative requirement was to return 40% of the profits back to the community, the trust aimed to return 50%.
The ILT was committed to providing safe and enjoyable gaming venues, he said.
“Supporting gambling harm awareness initiatives is another way we can work with our community to increase awareness [and ensure] connections and pathways to support are available within our venues.”
In its third year of taking part in Pause the Pokies, the trust was also set to host the Murihiku Manu Dive Bomb Awareness Event on Saturday, September 5, from 2pm-5pm at Splash Palace Aquatic Centre on Elles Rd.
Select venues in Southland would take part in this year’s campaign which would be held from August 31-September 6.