Taranaki yet to evaluate pokies bill

The prospect of local government being responsible for the distribution of pokie funds has not been discussed by any of Taranaki's district councils.

Public submissions closed last week for the Gambling Amendment Bill, a private member's bill put forward by Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell.

If the bill becomes law, councils will be required to set up independent committees to distribute pokie machine proceeds.

The bill, which is at select committee stage, aims to see 80 per cent of money spent in machines paid back to the community.

Pub Charity chief executive officer Martin Cheer said if the bill passes it will end to gaming trusts and leave about 250 people out of work in the sector nationwide.

"Basically we would shut up shop," Mr Cheer said.

Under the bill councils would be required to buy all the pokie machines in their area if they wanted to earn revenue from them, he said.

Pub Charity estimates there are about $250 million worth of machines in New Zealand, Mr Cheer said.

A further $350m would be required to upgrade them to meet new safe gambling regulations – a financial burden councils didn't want, he said.

Mr Cheer said most councils spoken to were not interested in taking on the responsibility of gaming machines and didn't know what the bill entailed.

New Plymouth Mayor Harry Duynhoven said he was not familiar with the details of the bill which was yet to be discussed by council.

"Councillors haven't discussed the bill, but it should be something we should consider," Mr Duynhoven said.

He felt the gaming trusts in New Plymouth were operating well.

"I haven't heard too much untoward about them at all in recent times."

While the number of pokie machines had always been an issue, distribution of the money had caused no problems, he said. "I'm not aware of any other concerns about how the money is divvied up."

He said he would be raising the bill for discussion at council in the near future.

South Taranaki District Council chief executive Craig Stevenson said his council had not formally considered the bill. "If it becomes law we'll look at implementing it but it's got a wee way to go yet," Mr Stevenson said.

Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke said the district council had also not discussed the bill either.

The bill implied more funds would be distributed to the community, he said.

"On the face of it it would suggest that there would be a very significant increase in funding available to our community," Mr Volzke said.

This could be as high as $1m per annum for Stratford alone, he said.

How this money was divvied up would come down to council policy, he said.

"It would be over to the council to establish policies and criteria for distributing that money."

This added administration would come at a cost to the council, he said.

Mr Volzke said he would welcome council's ability to decide how pokie money was spent in the community.

New Plymouth Club general manager Lindsay Campbell said he had made a submission opposing the bill. "We obviously believe the current legislation is adequate."

The club owns 18 pokie machines which account for about 50 per cent of the club's income. If the bill was passed the club would lose tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

Taranaki Daily News