Pressure on to oppose anti-pokie legislation

STEVE KILGALLON
Last updated 09:05 10/06/2012

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Pokie trusts are pressuring grant recipients to make submissions against MP Te Ururoa Flavell's reform bill, telling them if the legislation passes they risk funding cuts.

Trusts return $280 million a year in grants and $330m in tax, but have come under fire for dubious practices, and Flavell's reforms include a call to shut them and put grants under local government control.

Letters from several trusts to grant recipients, including sport and community groups, ask them to make submissions against the bill before a June 21 deadline. Some provide pre-written letters for the groups to sign.

One grant recipient said the trust involved had phoned "pressuring us to send in our submission". "It does beg the question, are we jeopardising future consideration by not supporting them?"

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Graeme Ramsey said recipients were being put in difficult positions. "Groups will fear that not doing what the trusts want will jeopardise future funding, irrespective of what they actually think on the issue."

He said the tactic was to swamp the select committee, and accused trusts of misinforming the public, saying better administration would see grants rise, not fall, and that the bill recognised the system was "constantly rorted".

The New Zealand Community Trust, Trillian, Lion Foundation, the Southern Trust and Pub Charity have all sent letters. A circular from Trillian calls the bill "damaging and significantly flawed" and warns fewer machines will provide less money for the community, while Lion's letter calls the proposals "highly political in nature".

Pub Charity chief executive Martin Cheer said trusts talked to grant recipients because if they did not advise them of what they saw as the implications of reform, no one would.

He said Flavell wanted to eradicate all pokies and that would mean grants went. Plans to use the country's community boards to distribute funds were inefficient and anti-pokie MPs were misleading the public by claiming a new system would return 80 per cent of funds as grants, when tax already accounted for a third of the money.

"The players don't want it, venues don't want it, donation recipients don't want it, and we don't want it. My question is, where is the mandate?"

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