11 Aug 2021

Pokie machine venues worried DIA plan will trigger 'shopping list' for thieves

8:24 am on 11 August 2021

Department of Internal Affairs' plan to publish the amount of cash taken in by pokie machines at each venue creates a public "shopping list" for thieves, restaurant and bar owners say.

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The department stands by its decision to publish the amount of cash venues earn from pokie machines. Photo: RNZ/ Dan Cook

Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) announced at the end of June it would begin publishing the cash take at a venue level, despite in 2012 refusing to give that information out under the Official Information Act because it would "likely endanger the safety of persons".

"Placing information in the public domain about the likelihood of large amounts of cash being held on a premise represents a real risk of increasing or encouraging criminal behaviour," the 2012 response said.

But in an apparent U-turn DIA gambling director Dave Robson said the public had a right to know where gambling spend was happening in their communities, and that releasing it was for the benefit of harm minimisation.

Tony Crosbie owns and operates hospitality venues that host pokie machines and said the plan was dangerous.

"The consequences could be fatal. If you're on the floor operating these venues, I think you'll see that that's exactly what the potential could be.

"I'm getting a lot of phone calls and feedback from members around the country really concerned and really anxious that this could actually happen."

Restaurants and bars with gaming machines were already a target, he said.

"And with the knowledge they'd have to help them that will increase the potential decisions for those people to do that and have the time to work on it.

"That's my biggest fear. It's not a matter of if it's a matter of when."

The Gaming Machine Association (GMANZ) commissioned a risk analysis on the plan which backed up Crosbie's fears.

"The publication of venue-level gaming machine profits will be like creating a shopping list for criminals and especially organised crime.

"The current risk environment is extreme and requires strategies to reduce risk not elevate it, which the publication of such data will do. If this did increase the number of attacks (robberies) this could increase the risk to people's lives," The RISQ report said.

The requirement for venues to hold sufficient cash to pay people who won significant sums of money from gaming machines needed to be reviewed, the report said.

"They cannot avoid holding sums varying from $20,000 to $65,000 ... cash reduction strategies to combat aggravated robberies work."

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The Gaming Machine Association says its been given legal advice the DIA's plan would breach established acts, but the DIA says it has also sought legal advice. Photo: Flickr/creative commons

GMANZ also sought legal advice on the announcement from law firm Buddle Findlay.

It said publishing the information would be a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act and would be contrary to provisions on the Official Information Act and Privacy Act.

The advice also said it would result in increased security costs for venues, which would otherwise have been used to pay out grants.

"It is, in my professional opinion, urgent and imperative that GMANZ engages with the DIA/Dave Robson in order to persuade them to reconsider and abandon the proposal to disclose/publicise GMP [gaming machine proceeds] on a venue specific basis, for the reasons discussed in this letter."

GMANZ chair Peter Dengate-Thrush said operators were not opposed to disclosure, but questioned what the benefit would actually be.

"My industry contributes the lion's share of $20 million a year to go into research on problem gambling and treatment for problem gamblers so if there was something in this information that could help harm minimisation, we'd be right behind it.

"They cannot tell us any single thing that this information can be used for in relation to harm minimisation."

The data was being published per suburb, which GMANZ was not opposed to, but that stopped in March last year.

DIA should have consulted on the new idea, rather than announcing it out of the blue, Dengate-Thrush said.

"A consultation paper could have come out, a series of emails could have gone around, we have regular meetings, we have reasonably good relationships in general with the gambling regulator."

Robson said while there had been no formal consultation it had been discussed with the sector at various times, and DIA would continue to engage with GMANZ.

DIA had sought legal and general advice around its role and responsibilities under various legislative frameworks, including the Health and Safety at Work Act, Robson said.

He stood by the decision.

"The release of venue level data will enable organisations who support gambling harms and community decision making, to better understand where gambling risk is being presented and it is in the public interest that this information is easy to access.

"The department acknowledge the concerns of some of the sector and the department are continuing to look at the best way to release this information."

"The next GMP release is scheduled for 24 August."

Operators were hopeful that date would be delayed.

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