27 Oct 2018

Councils feel powerless to stop gambling harm

9:20 pm on 27 October 2018

Councils say they are unable to make changes to protect their communities from problem gambling, because of government policy.

Pokie machines.

Many people in South Auckland want to get rid of addictive pokie machines, Auckland councillor Alf Filipaina says. Photo: RNZ

The Gambling Act 2003 says local councils are able to control the growth of gambling, and prevent and minimise the harm it causes within the region.

The government asks councils to consult with communities about how they would like to prevent gambling harm, said Dunedin Mayor and Local Government New Zealand president Dave Cull.

But councils did not have enough power to minimise gambling harm, he said.

"For instance there's no effective way to lower the number of class four gambling venues in say, lower socio economic areas," Mr Cull said.

"There's no way of really incentivising gaming machine operators to change the number or location of the machines.

"They're the key issues for the community."

Dave Cull

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says councils lack the power to minimise harm from gambling. Photo: RNZ

The current set up meant the council lost face when it called for submissions from the community, then could not do what people suggested, he said.

In the Manukau Ward of Auckland city, councillor Alf Filipaina said it was frustrating his community could not do more to combat pokie machines.

There was a sinking lid policy in place - but that was not enough, Mr Filipaina said.

"The community that I know, they would want all the pokie machines to be gone, they really do.

"They just want them out of there because they've seen the impacts that it has on family and our children's lives, marriages... they know the impact."

A spokesperson from the Department of Internal Affairs said the department encouraged venues to provide a "culture of care" towards gamblers.

The Ministry of Health's draft strategy to prevent and minimise harm from pokies asked if gambling venue operators should be given incentives to move from poor areas to more affluent ones.

The ministry was considering submissions and its work on gambling harm would inform the advice Internal Affairs gives the government.

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