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Local councils not going far enough to curb 'scourge on society' that is problem gambling — report

Councils are making efforts to reduce pokie machines in a bid to help curb spending on the slots, but experts say it's not enough. 

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Report author Chris Erwin and the Problem Gambling Foundation's Andree Froude joined Breakfast to discuss what changes should be made. Source: Breakfast

By law, local councils need to come up with policy to regulate their use, and councils that limit or reduce pokie numbers do help reduce problem gambling. However, there are concerns around a possible conflict of interest as some of the money from the machines is poured back into the community in the form of gaming grants, potentially influencing the council's decision to restrict the number of pokies. 

Capping Problem Gambling in NZ, a new report released this morning by the Auckland University of Technology, found local councils can be effective in addressing problem gambling by introducing policies to reduce the number of gaming machines allowed per venue.

AUT postdoctoral fellow and report author Christopher Erwin told Breakfast there were two major points to the Gambling Act since it was passed in 2003, including the “broad, baseline national caps as to how many pokies you could have in any establishment” and “it gave local councils or territorial authorities the power to enact their own local policies”.

Erwin said the report looks at “what different policies have been enacted and how effective they have been, both in reducing availability of pokies in the community and also reducing the amount of losses that players have experienced at these pokie machines”.

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The city lost nearly $5.5 million to pokie machines in the three months after last year's Alert Level 4 lockdown. Source: 1 NEWS

The Problem Gambling Foundation’s Andree Froude said problem gambling is a “significant social issue in this country”, adding that pokies “still remain the most harmful form of gambling”.

She said approximately 252,000 people — roughly the population of Hamilton — are “impacted by gambling harm” and the issue is “downplayed often”.

“You’ve got to remember that it’s not just the gambler – it’s the people who are in their lives who are affected, their families, their workplaces. It’s like tentacles and it’s widespread in New Zealand. And pokies, they’re still the most harmful.

“Harm occurs on a spectrum.”

Erwin said there were three different types of policy and interventions born out of the 2003 act that councils could do, including setting a hard cap on the number of pokie machines in the community and increasing and decreasing its number according to a “per capita basis”.

He also noted the “sinking lid” policy approach, which is “sort of playing a long game towards completely eliminating pokies within the community” by having territorial authorities cap the number of pokies at the number already existing in the community.

“The way that the sinking lid functions is that it doesn’t permit the transfer of pokie machine licences to other venues. So if you have a pub that closes or a club that wants to move location, those licences are permanently forfeited. The cap goes down, hence the sinking lid.”

Froude said there are currently around 26 councils that have introduced the sinking lid policy, which she called “fantastic, but we want to see more councils and we would argue it doesn’t go far enough”.

“It takes such a long time … It’s the long move and we would like to see councils have more power to reduce pokie numbers in their communities.”

She added that the machines are in 50 per cent of the venues in the poorest communities in the country, so “the money is coming from people who can least afford to be losing it and that is a big, big part of the problem”.

Erwin said while the power of local authorities is limited, he highlighted “the effectiveness of basically going above and beyond these sort of baseline Gabling Act 2003”.

He said those that went “above and beyond, relative to those that just stuck with the baseline, were seeing additional decreases in both the availability and payer losses at the pokie machine, and an additional decrease between 10 and 14 per cent which is nothing to bat an eye at”.

Froude said she wants to see the “scourge on society" out of their communities.

"We want to see the numbers going right down, we want to see the unhealthy reliance of community groups and support groups – who do great things, we’re not saying they don’t – but we want their reliance on the funding from pokies reduced so that we're not funding our community groups and sports groups from the poorest people in our country.”