A proposal to halve the number of pokie machines in Waitara is one step closer after a public hearing in New Plymouth.
The district council wants to introduce a sinking-lid policy on pokie machines in the town to cap their number at 25, down from the current 49.
A social impact report found the district was at low risk in terms of gambling harm, but Waitara scored highly in three key risk factors: high density of pokie machines, low average incomes and a high proportion of Māori residents.
Taranaki medical officer of health Jonathan Jarman made a submission at the hearing yesterday, backing the Waitara sinking lid policy and calling for a scaling back across the district.
The council was hoping to keep the district-wide limit at 369. There are currently 340 licensed machines.
Dr Jarman told the hearing supporters of gambling liked to say it was just a bit of fun, like going to see a movie, but said watching a film did not cause people to kill themselves.
He said the argument that pokies supported community groups no longer stacked up because many groups were turning away from that source of funding.
"They know the sort of misery and grief that is in the background of where this money comes from so that's why I've heard the expression 'blood money' and they won't touch it."
Ngā Mahanga hapū member Fay Mulligan wanted the number of pokies in Waitara capped at 5, and questioned why the town had so many machines in the first place.
"When you look at the comparison of the number of gaming machines in Waitara compared to other places it's astronomical," she said.
"You go to those communities because they're easier to infiltrate. If you go to higher socio-economic areas it's much harder to infiltrate because the community has the wherewithal to prevent you coming in."
New Zealand Community Trust is the country's largest gaming trust and paid out $41 million to community groups in the 12 months to September 2016.
Spokesperson Tanya Piejus said it did not target lower socio-economic areas.
"There are claims that the high deprivation areas do have more gaming machines and that's probably true in some areas, but to say that we deliberately target them is unfair.
"We would prefer, certainly, to have our gaming machines in areas that are attractive to users such as the CBDs in central cities."
Ms Piejus did not support the sinking lid policy being introduced in Waitara and she had the support of submissions from several sporting and community groups concerned about funding streams.
She told the hearing that there had been a 30 percent decline in pokie machines over the past 13 years but no correlating drop in problem gambling.
The council will consider the submissions and make a final decision on its gambling policy at an as yet unspecified date.