Social problems to put money on
Northlanders spent $32.8 million on all forms of gambling last year, including pokie machines and Lotto tickets, up $1.1m on the previous year, according to Department of Internal Affairs figures.
They did not surprise Whangarei-based Nga Manga Puriri, which helps gambling addicts, and accepted a record 15 new referrals in two days in February.
Nga Manga Puriri manager and problem gambling practitioner Marino Murphy said the support service was at “crisis” point, with poverty driving people to pokie machines in the hope of winning big.
Northlanders gambled $7.8m in the first quarter of last year, rising to $8.2m in the second quarter, $8.2m in the third and $8.4 million in the fourth. By the end of 2017 there were 305 gaming machines in the Far North, 283 in Whangarei and 60 in the Kaipara.
Ms Murphy said while those who sought help made good progress, a lot of gambling addicts were too embarrassed to come forward.
“Over a couple of days in February we received 15 referrals, which was very high, and shows the problem has become worse over the years. Normally we receive between three to five people a month,” she said.
At the International Gambling Conference in Auckland early this year, Kaitaia GP Dr Lance O’Sullivan called for a ban on pokies, saying gambling harm was reflected in poverty statistics, housing inequalities and mental health issues, with Maori being disproportionately affected
Ms Murphy supported that call. channelling the money into public transport such as light rail, urban cycleways and safety improvements on urban and regional roads to lower the road toll.
Northland Regional Transport Committee chairman John Bain said he and committee members had not had time to digest the GPS and its implications for roading projects in Northland, the next step being to seek a meeting with the Ministry of Transport and NZTA for advice about giving the government the best response to the draft.
“We will put together a plan that will still hold the top three priorities of a fourlane highway to Auckland, including the section from Whangarei to the roundabout at Port Marsden Highway, along with road safety and road resilience,” Mr Bain said.
Regional Development Minister Shane Jones said he was expecting some flak from supporters of motorway upgrades in the regions, such as the project to get four lanes to Whangarei.
“I understand the pressure our civic leaders are under, but my plea to them is that there are a host of other roading priorities in Northland that should not be overlooked,” he said. He had been shocked by the number of bridges used by logging and Fonterra trucks that needed attention, while more passing lanes were needed in the region.
Mr Bain said Mr Jones counted himself as a Northlander, as did Kelvin Davis, Winston Peters, Willow-Jean Prime and Shane Reti.
“They travel up and down that highway, and will understand its importance. I would expect all the Northland MPs to push for this important economic artery for Northland,” he said.
In February all four Northland council leaders presented a joint statement saying there was plenty of merit in the proposed widened highway between Northland and Warkworth. They said they would rather government spent more on that vital main link than on regional roads, but they’d like regional roads to be better funded too.
The projected cost of four-laning SH1 between Warkworth and Whangarei was just short of $2 billion, while the 22km stretch from Whangarei to the Ruakaka roundabout, which could be completed within five years, would cost $400 millionplus.