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New Zealand city wants tougher pokies restrictions

Fri, Apr 5, 9:51am by Staff Writer

There are calls for tougher restrictions on gaming machines in the New Zealand city of Tararua, as the community’s penchant for pokies flies in the face of national trends.

The district has the second higher ratio of pokies to people in New Zealand rural areas and gaming machine revenue increased almost 10 per cent in the past two years.

This has led a gambling addiction support groups call for action.

The Problem Gambling Foundation says Tararua needs to step up efforts to reduce the harm pokies are doing in the district and needs to introduce a “sinking lid” policy on the number of gambling venues.

The present sinking lid policy applies only to the number of machines.

The local council is in the middle of reviewing its gambling venue policy and although it has successfully reduced the number of venues and machines in the district, it’s slow going.

Tararua has the second highest ratio of people to pokies of any rural district council, with 0.8 per cent of New Zealand’s poker machines, but only 0.37 per cent of the country’s population.

Council strategy and policy adviser Malcolm Thomas said the district was down to 122 machines from a peak of 134 in 2012, but Tararua ended up with a growing share of the national total because the rest of the country was ditching pokies at a faster rate.

The sinking lid policy for machines was introduced in 2013.

It means no new machines will be introduced in Tararua unless there are fewer than 100 pokies in the district, according to

The same policy doesn’t extend to venues that house poker machines, although new venues can only replace old ones if the replacement is run by the same group.

The Problem Gambling Foundation would prefer to see no new venues allowed until the numbers fell below a cap.

Foundation counselor Bonnie Lovich-Howitt said there tended to be more pokies in lower-incomes areas like Tararua, where Statistics New Zealand’s 2013 census figures put the district’s median income at $25,100, compared with the national average of $28,500.

Tararua gambling venues pulled in more than $3.8 million in 2018, up 9.7 per cent from 2017.

Although a portion of gambling proceeds were legally required to go towards treating gambling addiction, it was better to focus on prevention, she said.

The average problem gambler would negatively affect up to 10 other lives and only a small proportion of problem gamblers seek help, since most people found it easier emotionally to deny they had a problem, Lovich-Howitt said.

Tararua mayor Tracey Collins said the gambling venue policy was a balance between the community good and avoiding being unduly harsh on business owners.

Collis expects the council review’s four-week public consultation process will attract a lot of submissions and could lead to a change.

“No-one wants the harm that comes from problem gambling…having an open conversation about the issue will find ideas and new solutions to minimize the harm to our community,” she said.

Facial recognition in Gisborne

Pokies have been a hot topic in New Zealand recently, with the town in the country’s south island installing facial recognition technology to help problem gamblers from losing money on its machines.

The New Zealand Community Trust chief executive Mike Knell said it had installed the technology at all six of its gaming venues in Gisborne to help problem gamblers who had excluded themselves.

“NZCT understands and accepts a duty of care towards gambling patrons and our legal obligation to help problem gamblers exclude themselves from our venues,” he said.

Facial recognition technology is an important innovation for helping self-identified problem gamblers stay out of temptation’s way by stopping them getting into gaming rooms from which they have chosen to exclude themselves, The Gisborne Herald reports.

“Although there is a relatively small number of excluded problem gamblers and the costs of the technology are high, with government agency and stakeholder support, we’re hopeful that having the technology widespread will bring forward more people who could be at risk, to seek help from problem gambling services providers.”

The technology has been successfully trailed by gaming societies at several venues around the country and became fully operational last year.

It works by capturing a person’s image by a video camera as they enter the gaming room.

The image is then sent to the central database of excluded people.

The database returns an alert to the venue that the system has identified an excluded gambler. A member of the venue staff then approaches the gambler, checks their identification and removes them from the venue.

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