Kiwi councillors want to change poker machine policy

by William Brown Last Updated
Kiwi councillors want to change poker machine policy

A New Zealand council is in the midst of a public consultation process for its proposal to change the city’s “sinking lid” policy regarding gaming machines.

Stuff reports that Otorohanga District Council is shaping up for a gaming machine debate, having last October decided to change its sinking lid policy.

The change in policy required public consultation, which is now underway, with the Problem Gambling Foundation and Waikato District Health Board both opposing the move.

A sinking lid policy means no new licences for pokie machines can be issued and the machines cannot be transferred to a new pub or owner if the venue closes.

The policy is touted as a way of reducing problem gambling, with Otorohanga seeking to reverse the move.

The Otorohanga district has five publicly available gambling machines at the Kawhia Hotel, nearly an hour’s drive from Otorohanga.

The 18 pokies in Otorohanga are in the Otorohanga Club, which a majority of the district councillors are members of.

There are different rules regarding profits from public gaming machines and club machines.

Public gaming machines are required by law to invest a percentage of the income back into the community.

The clubs don’t have to, but many do.

Councillor calls on city to change sinking lid policy

Councillor Bryan Ferguson opened the debate at the October 2020 district council meeting, saying the council’s sinking lid policy was driving money out of the town.

“So the whole community loses anyway,” he said.

“The money that the majority of the people spend in gambling in our district is their own money.

“And we can’t control or even try to control what the total financial loss of our community is through gaming. That’s a bit of a fallacy that really bugs me, saying it reflects the social demand for pokie and gaming machines in our district.

“I understand people don’t have any way of demonstrating a demand, if we have a sinking lid policy.

“There is no option for any business to grow and maybe a bar or another business to start in town or even the whole district, if we have the sinking lid policy we have at present.

Not only did the policy reduce business opportunities, it also shrinks the opportunity for bringing money back into the community through gaming trusts, he said.

Councillors voted to change the policy to allow it to examine on a case-by-case basis any possible future applications for gaming machines.

Chief executive of Pub Charity Martin Cheer said the Gambling Act 2003 does not prohibit a policy which would allow growth in gaming venues and machines.

“In fact, the purpose of the Act clearly anticipated growth, only that it be controlled in the fashion the council is proposing,” he said.

Problem Gambling Foundation spokesperson Andree Froude said since 2016, the foundation has seen the spend on pokies going up year-on-year, which means there is harm.

Alongside that, she said pokie machine numbers are not reducing the poorest communities in New Zealand, the areas where she said they need to.

Research from Wellington-based Sphere Research Group found about 50 per cent of the pokies are clustered in geographic areas representing the three most socio-economically deprived populations,” Froude said.

Otorohanga’s neighbouring Waitomo district is larger in area but has a similar population.

It has 60 pokies at five venues, three clubs and two bars.

Back to top