Pokies use triples in Christchurch in wake of quake

Residents of quake-devastated Christchurch have turned to gambling in the wake of the disaster that felled their picturesque town centre and killed 181 people.

New figures show that use of pokies has tripled since the 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit New Zealand's second biggest city on February 22.

This is despite the closure of a quarter of the city's pokie venues and the exodus of 10,000 residents after the killer quake.

The surge in gambling is worrying New Zealand's Problem Gambling Foundation, whose spokesman Tony Milne said venues had been "incredibly busy".

"Right from the start of the day to the end of the day, they were pretty much full," he said of 15 suburban pubs.

"People are gambling as a relief for all the stresses, or as a means of escaping. People are also desperate for money and are trying to increase what little money they have. But if you play the pokie machines you are going to lose, they design them that way," he said.

The concerning trend matches with other figures showing unemployment, problem drinking, rates of depression, violence and drug use have all spiked in Christchurch since the disaster.

Tourism is down 30%, rents on limited business space have increased and home values in many suburbs have dropped dramatically.

Figures from Statistics New Zealand this week confirmed that thousands of residents fled the city in the month after the quake, with many displaced families relocating to Australia.

In a speech to the city on Thursday, Revenue Minister Peter Dunne said the dire gambling statistics were "no surprise".

"I am not at all surprised that gambling on non-casino gaming machines in Christchurch has increased significantly since the quake, in much the same way that drinking issues seem to have risen, and even smoking cessation stalled," The Press reported Mr Dunne as saying.

"We are dealing with a lot of stressed people, and human nature can often take us to our weaknesses and frailties at times of extraordinary pressure and strain," he said.

The city's Salvation Army spokesman Peter Jamieson also confirmed the problem and said there was a real concern as to how agencies will cope with the "splurge".

The Government has pledged to spend $8.5 billion on rebuilding and supporting Christchurch through its recovery from the quake, the country's biggest natural disaster in 80 years.


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