Opposing the growth of Ōtorohanga pokies

7:35 pm on 8 March 2021

Ōtorohanga's bid to change its gambling policy is being opposed by the Problem Gambling Foundation and Waikato District Health Board.

Gaming machines.

Photo: RNZ

Ōtorohanga District Council voted to change from the former 'sinking lid' policy in October 2020 during the required three-yearly review of the gambling policy.

Councillors decided to change to a 'controlled increase in venues' policy which gives the council the ability to look at any new proposals for venues on a case-by-case basis.

"It's one of the worst policy proposals we have heard of," Problem Gambling Foundation Group marketing and communications director Andree Froude said.

"For a start, it completely contravenes the Gambling Act because what they [the council] are wanting to do is increase the growth of gambling, which completely goes against the spirit of the Act."

The Act is about harm minimisation and controlling the growth of gambling, Froude said.

"The council is actually overturning the very best policy to reduce the harm, to put in something that appears on the surface of it to be increasing gambling," she said.

"It's something that is ambiguous. What [the council's] calling [its] policy I've never heard of before, which is like a controlled increase in venue growth."

There are 23 pokies in the Ōtorohanga District, 18 are at the Ōtorohanga Club and five at the Kawhia Hotel. The number has remained the same for the past two reviews.

Figures provided by the PGF Group showed total losses to the 23 pokies in the district in 2019 was $997,000 - more than $2000 a day. And that figure was down by $68,129 on the total losses from 2018.

The pokie trust which operates the machines in the Ōtorohanga district returned $100,000 to the district in 2019. Thirty percent of the losses came from 1.8 percent of the gamblers.

Waikato District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Richard Wall said the DHB was opposed to the proposed change to the gambling policy.

"We intend to make a submission on the policy change and aim to appear at the hearing when it occurs," he said.

He said a DHB presence at the hearing may depend on Covid-19 workload at the time.

The proposed change to Ōtorohanga's gambling policy would allow an increase in the number of Class 4 gaming venues and electronic gaming machines in the district, he said.

Any increase in the number of electronic gaming machines would almost certainly lead to increases in harm, he said, to individuals, families and communities through increased participation in gambling activity and corresponding spend.

Gaming machines are recognised as being the major cause of gambling harm and the machines are cited most commonly when people seek help for a gambling addiction.

Māori and Pacific peoples and groups which experience higher deprivation are at greater risk of gambling harm, Wall said.

Policies which restrict or reduce the opportunity to gamble (such as Ōtorohanga's current gambling policy) are likely to play a significant role in mitigating gambling related harm over time.

The Ōtorohanga District Council is required to go to public consultation over the policy change.

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