Licences pulled, pokies remain

Two gaming trusts are continuing to operate poker machines in Nelson despite cancelled licences, raising the ire of the anti-pokie Nelson Gambling Policy Taskforce.

The Trillian Trust has nine pokies in Brewers Bar at Victory Square. Last year the taskforce went to the High Court and won a ruling that the Nelson City Council erred in the way it changed its gambling policy to allow the machines back into the square, and on November 30 the Department of Internal Affairs cancelled the licence for Brewers Bar.

The trust lodged an appeal, and the Department of Internal Affairs confirmed yesterday that the appeal process was still incomplete, allowing the trust to keep the machines running.

Now Internal Affairs has cancelled the licence of Blenheim-based Bluegrass Trust, which has 18 pokies in Nelson's Hardy's Bar, housed in a building in Hardy St in which Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio has an ownership interest.

Bluegrass has a total of 117 machines around the country.

The department's secretary, Colin MacDonald, said he cancelled the licence because he could not be satisfied that the gaming machine society was meeting its obligations under the Gambling Act.

Internal Affairs investigated Bluegrass when it renewed its licence in 2010. Mr MacDonald said the trust allegedly supplied false or misleading information about three trotting club loans it used to get established. There were also concerns that "a key person" was unsuitable because of his previous poor compliance with the Gambling Act.

Bluegrass is allowed to continue operating its machines while the licence cancellation is appealed.

Its chairman, Pat O'Brien, who is also chairman of Harness Racing New Zealand, has rejected the allegations. He said the trust would be contacting its lawyer.

Gambling taskforce spokesman Darci Goldsworthy said the group was appalled that despite the licence cancellation, Bluegrass was still "trading unabated".

"This trust has had its licence cancelled for allegedly giving false information to the DIA, and a key person has been deemed unfit to operate a gaming trust, yet all its venues and machines are still operating. It shouldn't be allowed."

There were parallels with the Trillian case, Mr Goldsworthy said.

"We went to the High Court in August last year to get the pokie machines removed from the heart of Victory community, and we won. Yet in spite of the DIA cancelling the Brewers Bar's pokies licence in October, the jolly things are still there and still operating just because the Trillian Trust lodged an appeal to the Gambling Commission. This is not justice."

Both cases illustrated the need for law reform, he said.

"It's too focused on letting the gambling industry do what they like, despite their history of corruption and the fact that nowhere in the world has any community ever asked for pokie machines in their neighbourhood, and once they're in, it seems like even the High Court and the DIA combined can't get them out."

Gambling Commission executive director Blair Cairncross has previously told the Nelson Mail that the commission generally tried to deal with appeals "as quickly as possible".

Today he said the Trillian Trust's appeal would be considered at the commission's July meeting tomorrow, with a written decision expected "within about four weeks".