October 20, 2005


New Zealand's poker machines snare lonely single women

A story published today in the Otago Daily Times reports that lonely, 30-something single women addicted to poker machines are the new face of problem gambling in New Zealand, experts say.

Women account for more than half of New Zealanders with gambling problems, compared with about 20% a decade ago, and are almost exclusively addicted to pokies, the country’s longest-running study on the addiction shows.

Gambling researcher Professor Max Abbott said the group with the worst incidence of pathological gambling were those aged between 25 and 35 and, increasingly, women.

Prof Abbott, who has completed a seven-year study on gambling, said lower wage earners once made up a large proportion of pathological gamblers but this was no longer the case. Now, people from all walks of life were afflicted.

Prof Abbott, of the Auckland University of Technology, said between 2% and 3% of New Zealanders were pathological gamblers, but up to 25% fell into the unhealthy category of using gaming machines once a week or more.

Single people were more likely to let their attraction to gambling run away with them without the presence of someone to curb their addiction, Prof Abbott said.

Dr Sean Sullivan, director of the Auckland-based Abacus clinic, which specialises in the treatment of addictions, said a large number of pathological female gamblers were lonely women in their 30s who went to bars looking for company but ended up addicted to poker machines.

They are desperately wanting company, but women who go to bars alone tend to attract dodgy types, so they play a few games on the pokie machines and they eventually get hooked, he said.

Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand (PGF) chief executive John Stansfield said the lure of poker machines to single women should not be underrated.

One 30-plus woman who attended a PGF group described to Mr Stansfield the lack of alternatives for single women in bars.

Where can I go out in this city socially, all dressed up, and not look like I’m trying to pull?

Mr Stansfield said there had been a significant increase in problem gamblers in New Zealand since the introduction of pokies in bars, clubs and casinos with the biggest impact now hitting women.

Pokie machines are the reason we have women with gambling problems today.

They single-handedly feminised gambling in this country, compared to the old alternative of racing.

However, Prof Abbott’s study found 90% of people addicted to poker machines conquered their problem within seven years. Of those addicted to racing gambling, less than half overcame their problem within the same time.

Auckland and Christchurch remained the areas with the most new clients, the statistics showed.