27 Nov 2017

Govt needs to ban pokies in poor areas - Lance O'Sullivan

From Checkpoint, 5:42 pm on 27 November 2017

Pokies simply have no place in areas with high levels of poverty and social problems, a Northland GP says.

Dr Lance O'Sullivan, New Zealander of the Year in 2014, said people needed to be smarter about the placing of pokie machines.

He told Checkpoint with John Campbell that during his time as a GP he had seen many signs of poverty. Pokies were addictive and a common form of gambling, he said.

Dr O'Sullivan said the harm caused by pokies was mostly hidden from view, the harms were poorly measured, and communities such as Kaitaia lose millions of dollars a year to pokies.

One policy that some councils adopted was declining to replace aging machines.

"I think we need to go one step further and actually say 'look there's no place in communities that have high levels of deprivation and social problems to have machines that can take, in the Far North, $30 million a year out of those communities'.

"So we shouldn't be allowing them in communities such as Kaitaia ... we can't police things such as our children being left in cars, our people spending eight or 10 hours on these machines a day.

"We don't have cameras in car parks to make sure children aren't being left unattended in cars."

He said the new government made a commitment to tackling child poverty.

"The government can make a change today by removing pokies from communities like mine tomorrow."

Asked whether this interventionist model was too paternalistic, he said sometimes people needed to take a stand.

"I don't think we should be afraid of showing courageous leadership ... I think a lot of the harm from pokie machines is hidden from view. We're not just talking about those that are defined as a problem gambler, we're talking about those who're losing money they can ill afford to lose, they're flying under the radar, their kids are going hungry, their houses are cold and we're not measuring that well enough."