7 Dec 2022

Timaru council ignores health officials' calls to cut back pokies

7:54 pm on 7 December 2022
Whakatāne District Council is considering tightening its sinking lid policy on gambling machines as a way to minimise gambling harm.

Many councils around the country have used sinking lid policies to reduce the number of pokies in communities over time, but Timaru District Council has voted to keep the current number Photo: Troy Baker E2261-03

Timaru District Council has ignored health officials' advice to crack down on pokies to reduce gambling harm.

Following public consultation, the council voted yesterday to retain its current gambling policy, which did not include bans on new venues or machines - an option proven to reduce gambling spending.

Nine submitters were against the policy - seven because it was too permissive, and two because it was too restrictive - and six submitters supported it.

The council's decision bucked a nationwide trend of local bodies introducing measures like sinking lids.

In one of fifteen written submissions, Te Mana Ora (on behalf of Te Whatu Ora, Waitaha/Canterbury) urged it to introduce a sinking lid.

"This is the best policy available to gradually reduce the number of pokie machines in pubs and clubs and the harm that accompanies them," Te Mana Ora said.

It said that harm included decreased health, emotional and psychological distress, financial harm, reduced performance at work or education, relationship breakdowns (including family violence), and criminal activity.

Te Mana Ora quoted research that showed gambling causes more than twice the amount of harm as a chronic condition like diabetes, and triple that of drug use disorders.

It noted that reducing gambling availability was in line with the council's aspirations to "create opportunities for all citizens to live within a safe, healthy community, where wellness needs are embraced", as outlined in the 2021-2023 long term plan.

Another anonymous submitter said they knew of a 31-year-old who had gambled about $750,000 at the pokies over 15 years.

"To date no staff members at any premises where machines are located has stopped him," they said.

"Recognition within the policy that problem gambling is a potential problem is not good enough."

Some submitters in support of the policy highlighted the community benefit of gambling machines, because charitable organisations were reliant on the funding they generated.

Others argued that in other local authorities, community funding remained much the same despite a reduction in machines.

Council discussed lifting the number of machines allowed in each venue from seven to nine, which is the maximum allowed under the Gambling Act.

But that went no further after deputy mayor Scott Shannon said he was concerned about the "optics" of that.

"From what we've heard and what we've read, things are actually working fine, the policy is good.

"If everything is working, and we all seem pretty comfortable with the policy as recommended, I don't see the need to increase it," said Shannon, moving that the council accept the current policy.

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