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Gambling policy feedback pours in

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:55 24/07/2013

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A barrage of facts, figures and opinions has been presented to the Nelson City Council as organisations state their case on the council's new gambling policy.

The council is reviewing its gambling policy, and asked for public feedback on the options of introducing a sinking lid on venues, and to separate its current gambling policy into two separate policies.

The council received 65 submissions to the policy review and 11 groups and individuals spoke at yesterday's hearing.

Councils are required by law to adopt a class four (pokie machine) venue policy to regulate the location and number of such venues in their area. The policy can also specify restrictions on the number of pokie machines.

The Racing Act (2003) also requires councils to adopt a TAB venue policy.

Fewer pokie machines are operating in Nelson city than consents allow for.

Those concerned with problem gambling and who wanted fewer pokie machines argued a reduction would not lead to less money by way of grants coming back to the community.

At the same time those wanting the status quo said there was "strong evidence" that the number of gaming machines in the community had no correlation to problem gambling.

Problem Gambling Foundation research director Philip Townshend, who supports the status quo (2007 policy), said the two arguments commonly advanced against sinking lids were that the reduction in machine numbers would result in less money coming back to the community. Mr Townshend said this was not true, and there were "good reasons why Nelson should expect a greater level of pokie funding" in the future, even with fewer machines.

Figures presented in his submission, compiled from Department of Internal Affairs statistics, showed that nationwide since 2006 there had been a reduction in the number of gaming machines and venues but the amount of money returned to communities had not dropped significantly.

In 2006 $269 million was allocated in grants to various groups and organisations around the country. In 2011 $261m was distributed.

Sue Bateup, from the Health Action Trust (Nelson), supported the argument presented by the Problem Gambling Foundation. She was concerned for the mental health and wellbeing of older people in Nelson where gambling was easily available at venues like the RSA.

"The risks of problem gambling for older adults are the same as those faced by younger gamblers," Ms Bateup said.

However, older adults with gambling problems faced unique risks including "reduced cognitive capacity" which made it difficult for some to make sound decisions.

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The New Zealand Community Trust, one of the country's largest gaming trusts, opposes the proposed sinking lid policy.

It argued that the Nelson community would lose out on the funding that the lost gaming machines currently provided. It also said reducing the number of machines would not reduce the number of problem gamblers.

Last year the trust returned 40 per cent of $91m in revenue from pokie machines to New Zealand communities.

A further 29 per cent went to the Government in duties and levies and the balance went to the pubs that hosted the gaming machines and the trusts that administered them.

Trust marketing manager Sally Anne Hughes said the trust had three venues in Nelson which last year returned $614,520 to the local community.

It funded a host of national organisations such as Lifeflight Trust, Spirit of Adventure, Yachting NZ and Outward Bound which also "benefited the people of Nelson".

Figures presented in the trust's submission showed that in 2011 there were 132 people in Nelson city who sought help for problem gambling. The Ministry of Health statistics said the 2.9 people per thousand was equivalent to the national average.

The trust said the social cost of problem gambling was a "fraction" of other social harms. It came out at 1-2 per cent of the social cost of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. The trust has recommended the council cap machine numbers at the current 257.

POKIE POLICY:

On March 13 this year there were 257 pokie machines operating in Nelson city, but under current consents the number could increase to 275 machines.

Nelson City Council's original gambling policy placed a cap on the number of pokie machines in Nelson at 328. In 2007 the cap was 301 and in 2010 it was 285.

- Nelson

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