Clubs, charities wary of pokie law changes

Last updated 13:00 05/06/2012

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Sporting clubs and charities fear they will lose thousands in community grants if changes to pokie machine laws go ahead.

The Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill has passed its first reading in Parliament and has been referred to the commerce select committee, with public submissions open until June 21.

It proposes to shift responsibility for distributing grant money from pokie trusts to local government, which will have the power to reduce or remove pokie machines.

Money gambled in a community will also have to be returned to that community and the amount donated would be increased to at least 80 per cent.

The bill's sponsor, Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell, has dismissed claims that the changes could leave small organisations in financial trouble. But Pub Charity boss Martin Cheer said Mr Flavell's bill was misleading and the MP had almost no understanding of the legislation he was trying to change.

Clubs and charities say they are concerned it could mean an end to money they rely on to survive.

Horowhenua Hockey Association operations manager Fiona McGregor said the group needed the grants to send teams to competitions.

Lately the money being received had reduced. But the organisation could get nothing if a council decided to get rid of pokie machines, she said.

There were plenty of good aspects to the bill from a problem-gambling point of view but the flipside could mean the end of many clubs and charities, she said. "If we take that gamble, and I'm not a gambling person at all, we could end up with nothing."

Mana Education Centre director Angela Ryan said she was also worried.

The last round of money it had received had been used to install a projector and heatpump in a new public seminar room, she said.

"You can see it from both sides and we're not in any way wanting to encourage gambling ... but we're very grateful to the bits of funding we've got over the past six years."

Mr Cheer said raising the donation amount to 80 per cent was impossible unless tax laws were also altered because 37 per cent of takings had to be given to the Government. This basic mistake illustrated how badly written the bill was.

He labelled the proposed changes "abolitionist", aiming to get rid of all machines.

If the changes were introduced in their current form, he predicted half the machines would be removed by councils "overnight".

"He [Mr Flavell] doesn't know what he's talking about, but he's very clear on what he believes."

When quizzed about the 80 per cent increase, Mr Flavell admitted "a few things" had been identified in the bill as needing more research. "I'm fairly open to the notion that I haven't got it all right."

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But he stood by the proposed amendments and accused pokie trusts of "scurrilous scaremongering".Fairfax NZ

- Nelson

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