Pokie machine numbers remain static, spending up

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 28/02/2014

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Palmerston North spending on pokie machines is holding firm despite a national downward trend.

The number of pokies operating in Palmerston North remained static in the last three months of 2013, but the amount of money poured into them went up from September to December.

Although there were fewer machines operating than 12 months before, spending was also up on what it was in the same quarter of 2012.

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said the December quarter often showed an upward trend in spending, but nationally, spending was down 3.4 per cent for the year.

"That downward trend shows that we have woken up to these machines - that they are not harmless entertainment.

"They are dangerous. The fewer of them, the better, and the less work we will have to do mopping up the mess."

Mr Ramsey said the number of machines across the country was declining, with sinking lid policies being more effective than caps.

The proximity and visibility of machines, and the number of venues, also had an influence on spending.

About 70 per cent of the problem gambling that foundation staff dealt with related to the pokies.

"We know if you play regularly, like fortnightly, you have at least a two in five chance of developing a problem."

Department of Internal Affairs figures show there were 385 gaming machines in the city at the end of 2013, the same as the previous quarter, but down from 410 a year ago.

Spending went up by $95,500 to $4.18 million between the September and December quarters - to just over 2 per cent of national spending on 2.23 per cent of the country's machines.

In the December quarter in 2012, spending was $4.15m, and less than 2 per cent of national spending.

Although the city council has set a cap of 400 on the number of pokies for the city, there are still 405 with current consents, with no prospect of any new operator being able to pick up a licence.

City council policy analyst Peter Ridge said the venues operating fewer machines than allowed are the Bunnythorpe Tavern, White Horse Inn, Grand Beer Cafe and Travelodge. He said it came as no surprise that trends in spending were not directly related to the number of machines.

Reducing machine numbers would only restrict spending if there was so much demand that people were queuing to use them, and did not compensate by spending larger sums to make up for having a shorter time to play.

During the December quarter spending was also up in Tararua, Rangitikei and Horowhenua, where there was no change in the number of machines operating.

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Manawatu dropped six machines, and spending was down slightly.

- Manawatu Standard

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