Pokies may remain in the rubble

SAM SACHDEVA
Last updated 05:00 24/02/2012

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Quake-hit Christchurch bars will not be allowed to move their gaming machines to new premises, the Christchurch City Council has ruled.

At yesterday's meeting councillors refused to change its anti-gambling policy, rejecting a staff recommendation to make changes.

The Hospitality Association of New Zealand (Hanz) said the decision was a "slap in the face" for quake-affected businesses.

The council policy, which aims to cut the number of pokies in the city, does not allow businesses to transfer machine licences between venues.

The hospitality industry had sought an exception to the rule to allow bars that had been damaged in the earthquakes to transfer licences if they moved to a new venue.

A staff report presented to councillors recommended allowing an exception for venues that had been affected by "circumstances beyond the control of the property owner", such as an earthquake, fire or flood.

The report cited the "extraordinary circumstances" caused by the city's earthquakes as justification.

However, most councillors spoke against the recommendation, saying the council should hold firm to the policy.

Cr Peter Beck said the council had been given a chance to reaffirm its opposition to the harm caused by pokie machines.

"This is a time of opportunity, and we have an opportunity to do something good for our city."

Cr Tim Carter said allowing exceptions would "directly contradict" the council's policy.

"It's not fair, but the earthquake wasn't fair, and if one of the effects of the earthquake is to have less pokies and less harm, we should embrace that."

Cr Helen Broughton spoke in favour of allowing exceptions, saying the council needed to support businesses affected "through no fault of their own".

"I think we've got to try to be fair, weighing up the harm that gambling does with being fair because of the earthquake."

Deputy mayor Ngaire Button also backed the staff recommendation.

"We're only getting businesses to where they were ... we're not changing the policy."

Button and Broughton were the only councillors to vote in favour of the recommendation.

Problem Gambling Foundation public health national manager Tony Milne said the council had "shown real leadership" in sticking to its sinking lid policy.

"They've put into practice what they've been talking about for a while, that we have to use the earthquake as an opportunity to transform our city."

Milne said the decision gave Christchurch an opportunity to have the first "pokie-free CBD" in the country.

"They [pokies] have a huge cost to us as a society ... the community takes a real hit from pokie machines."

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Hanz Canterbury branch manager Peter Morrison said he was "disgusted" by the council's decision, which would cause more problems for quake-hit businesses.

"Businesses have had enough hassle with trying to get insurance payouts and other issues like that, but this is another slap in the face from the city council," he said.

The hospitality industry did not want the number of pokie machines in the city to increase, but to "allow people to run their businesses as they were".

- The Press

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