12 Feb 2018

Pokies pushing children into poverty and illness - Northland GP

5:38 pm on 12 February 2018

A prominent Northland doctor has described his frustration with having to deal everyday with the sick children of parents addicted to pokies.

Generic gambling

Photo: bondvit/123RF

Dr Lance O'Sullivan spoke about the impacts of pokie machines on child poverty to audiences at the International Gambling Conference in Auckland today.

Children were becoming sick - had no food, lived in cold homes and had parents who were caving under the financial stress of their gambling addictions, Dr O'Sullivan said.

He works on the front-line in Kaitaia and is dealing everyday with the crippling effects gambling has on his community.

There was only one way to tackle the issue of pokie machines and problem gambling, he said - head on and by banning pokie machines.

Man in blue cap

Dr Lance O'Sullivan Photo: ( RNZ / Alex Perrottet )

It was bad enough there were diseases of poverty in a First World country like New Zealand, he said, and to see that made worse by pokies was extremely frustrating.

The Labour-led government campaigned on ending child poverty and Dr O'Sullivan said it was time it acted on its promise.

"And this is an absolute appropriate place to start - in minimising the impact of problem gambling on the lives and families of these children."

Patricia Riley of Raukura Hauora o Tāmaki said pokie machines were prevalent where she worked in South Auckland.

"If you look at the numbers of pokie machines we have say in Manurewa compared to a place like Remuera - polar opposites."

Children were having to manage the baggage that came with their parents' addiction to pokies, Ms Riley said.

"We've heard stories about if we know dad's been out gambling we know to stay away from him, not to speak to him."

At times, she said it felt like she was fighting a losing battle.

"It's just one thing after another all the contributing facts of poverty within the community nothing seems to be improving - it's an ongoing battle for us."

Pianika Taylor is an Auckland University student hoping to follow Dr O'Sullivan into the medical profession.

She said it was heartbreaking to see the damage caused by gambling addiction and was calling on the government and local councils to ban all pokies.

The overseas companies bringing in pokie machines were only profiting from people's misery, she said.

"They benefit from them but our communities and people using them are living in poverty."

The conference runs until Wednesday.