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Sports to struggle under new pokie rule

JOHN ANTHONY
Last updated 05:00 15/06/2012

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A proposed new law aimed at distributing a higher percentage of pokie machine takings to the wider community will hit sports clubs hard, a pokie trust's Taranaki chairman says.

The Gambling Amendment Bill, put forward as a private member's bill by Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell, will require councils to set up independent committees to distribute pokie machine proceeds and aims to give the community more say on how proceeds are spent.

The bill is at the select committee stage.

Green Party gambling spokeswoman Denise Roche said community and sporting groups in Taranaki could benefit by an additional $7 million annually if the new bill is supported. It was supported by 85 votes to 7 at its first reading in April.

But New Zealand Community Trust's Taranaki regional advisory group chairman Neil Wolfe said more than 80 per cent of pokie machine money that was put back into the community went to sports groups.

If local government gained control of how those funds were distributed, rather than trusts, the money might not reach the sports clubs, he said.

"There would be a lot of organisations that would be struggling for existence ...

`It wouldn't be a good outcome."

Of the $20 million spent in Taranaki's about 450-odd pokie machines in the past 12 months, an average of 45 per cent was returned back to the community, Department of Internal Affairs figures show.

"The new bill will change this situation, requiring a higher rate of return of 80 per cent to the local community," Ms Roche said.

"The Lion Foundation, which dominates the pokie trust sector in Taranaki, returned less than 50 per cent of money lost in its pokie machines to community and sporting groups," Ms Roche said.

Lion would have to distribute more than $3 million extra a year to Taranaki groups if the Flavell Bill is passed, Ms Roche said.

But Mr Wolfe said the current system was fair in that money generated from pokie machines went back to the community from which it came.

"To change that would be a retrograde step. It works well and I don't really know why they want to change it."

All gaming trusts would be "dead against" what is proposed in the bill, he said.

New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young said the bill was supported by National to go through to select committee stage as part of its confidence and supply agreement with the Maori Party.

"After that, it has to stand or fall on its own merits," Mr Young said.

The bill had some worthy points but also included elements that could prove unworkable, Mr Young said.

"I think increasing the return of funds back into communities they came from is a good point, but I'm reserving judgment on whether local authorities are the right body to distribute funding, especially as we are going through local government reform on their core functions."

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Mr Young said he was looking at how effective the bill would be in achieving its intention of minimising harm in lower income communities.

"What I hope to see from this bill is something which effectively helps problem gamblers, but also continues to fund community organisations and the positive contributions they make," Mr Young said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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