Gambling head appears on show

The Nelson Gambling Taskforce has been invited on to a national television show, but still hasn't got an answer from the Nelson City Council to a five-week-old open letter drawing attention to the council's conflict of interest policy.

Taskforce chairman Darci Goldsworthy has been flown to Auckland to pre-record a panel discussion to be screened on TV3's Think Tank at 9.30am this Sunday.

The show will focus on the effects of New Zealand's 21,000 poker machines, asking if they do any good or if they should be taken out of service. It will also ask if that isn't possible, what can be done about the damage to communities and families wrought by problem pokie gambling.

Mr Goldsworthy said he was surprised to be asked but glad to have taken part.

"We need to identify that the problem actually is the machines, and we need to set a date to have them gone and look for alternative funding."

He said removal of pokies would open the door for local businesses to start sponsoring their communities and for communities to return to raising their own funds.

The argument that withdrawal of tobacco sponsorship would kill rugby in New Zealand had been shown to be "furthest from the truth", he said, and was similarly flawed when linked to pokie grants.

He felt the public mood was swinging against pokies and the controversy surrounding Sky City's deal with the Government on an Auckland convention centre was making people think about the issue.

Early last month the taskforce, along with Problem Gambling Foundation, the Nelson District Kindergarten Association, the Victory Community Centre, the Nelson Residents' Association and the Student Association at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology sent an open letter to the city council asking that its gambling policy review be transparent, open, and follow best practice.

The letter said that councillors with any direct or indirect links to the gaming industry should not take part in any discussions or decision-making around the review.

In reaction to the letter, Mayor Aldo Miccio – who has an interest in a city building that houses a gaming bar – said the council had a strict code of conduct around conflicts of interest.

He had asked the chief executive to take advice on the letter and come up with a view on the issues it raised.

He would not take part in any gambling policy decisions, but drew a distinction between decision-making meetings and discussions taking place in informal council workshops.

Mr Goldsworthy said the taskforce believed that was an incorrect interpretation of the law and was still waiting to hear directly from the council.

"It's pretty disappointing at this point. What we mainly want to get at is that you cannot vote or be involved in discussions if you have a conflict of interest."

It was "becoming a joke" that councillors didn't understand their own protocols, he said.

Mr Miccio said yesterday a response would be sent to the taskforce "before the end of the week". He would make it available to the Mail.

He said the council's behaviour was "fine" and reiterated his opinion that he and councillors who might have a conflict of interest were able to take part in discussions on gambling policy, which were "nothing to do with the decision-making process".

The Problem Gambling Foundation, a Maori public health provider and the Green Party also feature in Sunday's television show.

The Nelson Mail