Woman spent nine hours playing the pokies while in labour

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The money spent on gambling machines is going up nationally, with New Zealanders spending more than $800m a year on them.

Experts say pokies are as addictive as cocaine, so Seven Sharp headed to Tauranga, where spending is increasing faster than anywhere else in NZ.
Source: Seven Sharp

Over 13 long years, Tauranga mother Sophia let this addiction take over her life.

"I poured thousands of dollars into the machines," she told Seven Sharp.

"I couldn't add it up. In that time I won several jackpots but compared to the money I put in just doesn't even count."

The machine came before her health and her family and on the day Sophia gave birth to her daughter she played the pokies for nine hours straight.

"It was said to me I'd gotten into a terribly lonely place; solo mother on her own about to have a baby," she said.

'A person lost $20,000 in a month from pokies'

But she is not alone because the money being spent on pokies in her city is growing faster than any other area in the country.

Public health worker Stephanie St George said from the beginning of the year up until September people in Tauranga spent $32 million on gambling machines.

Her and her colleague Darryl Wesley work at Tauranga's Salvation Army and say the number of people coming to the Salvation Army's gambling service for help has risen by nine per cent in the past year.

"A person lost $20,000 in a month from pokies. It is pokie machines that people are coming to us for support around. It's not other aspects. It's pokies," they said.

Seven Sharp reporter Kristin Hall took the streets to find out how many pokie machines were in Tauranga.

"In just under 10 minutes we were able to walk to five different venues with pokie machines. Each venue had 18 machines. That's the maximum number you're allowed. That makes for a total of 90 machines in about a 1km radius," she said.

Councils in New Zealand have different rules as to how many machines are allowed in the district, with Tauranga being the least restrictive.

The city focuses on a population based cap meaning that the more people, the more pokies. 

Mother Sophia has recovered from her addiction through counseling but she says pokies will always be around and they'll always be addictive.

"We just need to make them less accessible," she said.

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