Problem Gambling Foundation says south Auckland pokie machine profits cause for concern

New Zealand pokie machine operators made $252m in profits between October and December 2020 – the highest recorded since the Department of Internal Affairs began keeping records in 2007.
Bruce Mercer/Stuff
New Zealand pokie machine operators made $252m in profits between October and December 2020 – the highest recorded since the Department of Internal Affairs began keeping records in 2007.

New figures from the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) show pokie machine operators in south Auckland made $21 million in profits in the first quarter of 2021.

The figures are broken down by local board areas of south Auckland, including Franklin, Māngere-Ōtāhuhu, Manurewa, Ōtara-Papatoetoe, and Papakura.

The numbers are down on the previous quarter, when pokie machines venues in south Auckland made more than $26 million in profits in the last three months of 2020.

This equated to $252m in gaming machine profits nationwide between October and December last year - the highest since the Department of Internal Affairs began keeping records in 2007.

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But Problem Gambling Foundation spokeswoman Andree Froude said the amount being spent on gaming machines in south Auckland remains a serious concern.

“That’s still a huge amount of money and there will be harm caused by that much money being lost on pokie machines,” Froude said.

In October, the Auckland Council voted to retain its sinking lid policy for pokie machines in the region.

The policy means no new consents are issued for new venues and it prevents the machines from one club being transferred to another if it closes, helping to reduce the overall number of machines.

But the majority of the venues continue to be located in high-deprivation areas like south Auckland. Something Froude is more than aware of.

“You only need to go for a walk in south Auckland to see there are gaming machines everywhere,” Froude said.

“We need to see change because the system as it stands is broken and pokie machines are only fuelling more poverty.”

RNZ
Pokie machines - or "class 4 gambling"- are the most common, and most lucrative, method of gambling in New Zealand.

Froude said one area that needs to be looked at is the funding of community and sports groups, who rely on funding generated by the various pokie machine trusts.

She described it as a “cycle of dependency”.

“So much of that money is coming from our poorest communities and it’s not right. That’s money coming from people who can’t afford to lose it,” Froude said.

“I think a lot of community groups struggle with the ethical dilemma it puts them in. A lot of them rely on these grants for their existence.”

She said under the Gambling Act 2003 councils are limited in what they can do to address the impact of problem gambling.

“We would like to see councils have a greater say over the number of machines and venues in their areas, because we don’t believe sinking lids go far enough.”

Figures released last year showed more than half the people in Auckland seeking treatment for gambling addictions are from south Auckland. And just over half of those seeking help are gaming machine users.
John Selkirk/Stuff
Figures released last year showed more than half the people in Auckland seeking treatment for gambling addictions are from south Auckland. And just over half of those seeking help are gaming machine users.

A report to the council’s regulatory committee in October last year illustrated the sheer scale of problem gambling.

According to the council paper, more than half the people in Auckland seeking treatment for pokie machine gambling addictions were from south Auckland. And just over half of those seeking help were gaming machine users.

Peter Dengate Thrush is the chairman of the Gaming Machine Association of New Zealand (GMANZ), a lobby group which represents the sector in New Zealand.

He said the amount spent on gaming machines in the fourth quarter last year was a post Covid-19 high, but the latest figures from the first three months of the year show things have returned to “normal”.

“The number of venues hasn’t changed and neither has the number of machines,” Dengate Thrush said.

He said he thought Froude’s comments about community groups being dependent on pokie machine funding was rhetorical and inflammatory.

Dengate Thrush said the gambling industry already pays a problem gambling levy and almost half of that comes from class four gaming machine operators.

“The sector takes problem gambling very seriously and we contribute a significant amount of money to help address that.”