'Moral debate' over pokies not council business, politicians say

Trust Aoraki board member and South Canterbury District Health Board member Murray Cleverley, who is also running for ...
DANIEL TOBIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Trust Aoraki board member and South Canterbury District Health Board member Murray Cleverley, who is also running for the Timaru District Council by-election on September 5, said he could not comment on whether the council should continue to apply for grants as he had a conflict of interest.

Local body politicians say there is nothing wrong with using gaming trust grants as an anti-gambling lobby calls on councils to stop using pokie money. 

The Problem Gambling Foundation says the Timaru District Council received $338,560 through three grants from pub charity Trust Aoraki in 2015.

The money was spent on recreational facilities.

The foundation has urged councils to follow the Hamilton City Council, which this week voted to stop using gaming trust money. 

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Mayor Damon Odey, and deputy mayor Richard Lyon could not be reached but a council spokesman said the council had a "well-defined policy" on gaming machines.

The policy aimed at reducing the possibility of harm. The council received funding for "large scale projects where there is a clear public good". 

South Canterbury was a small community with "fewer alternative sources of funding". 

"Ruling out the use of community trust funding would mean increased costs for both ratepayers and facility users and a slowing of future developments," he said. 

Trust Aoraki board member and South Canterbury District Health Board member Murray Cleverley, who is also running for in the September 5 council by-election, declined to comment on whether the council should continue to apply for grants as he had a conflict of interest.

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But over the last 12 years, Trust Aoraki had allocated more than $12 million into the community, including helping to fund Caroline Bay Aquatic Centre and an MRI scanner for the hospital, Cleverley said. 

The majority of users saw pokie machines as a form of entertainment, he said. For some, the machines were damaging, but "a lot of money" was put in to support people who had gambling problems, he said. 

In 2015, the council and the Caroline Bay Aquatic Centre received $220,000 for the facility. Trust Aoraki records show the council received grants totalling nearly $120,000 for Temuka Domain.

In 2016 and 2017, the council received smaller amounts of funding jointly with Swim for Life. In the 2015 to 2016 financial year, Trust Aoraki distributed $1,648,796 to the wider Canterbury community. 

councillor Steve Wills said he understood the council did not receive money directly, and said there were a lot of organisations which would not be able to continue if the gaming trust did not support them.  

Councillor Peter Burt acknowledged "disaffected" people who should not be using the machines were still using them, but agreed trust funding was necessary in some cases for community organisations to exist. 

Council by-election candidate Mark Rogers rejected the Problem Gambling Foundation's stance: "moral debates" were none of the council's business. 

"It's legal and it's to the benefit of the community," he said. 

Fellow candidate OJ Jackson said as long as the right amount of money was going in to fund people who had gambling issues, he was comfortable for the council applying for gaming trust grants to fill the gap. 

"For those [Hamilton] councillors who are calling it dirty money, I assume they won't be accepting any money from the lotteries commission," he said. 

Speight's Ale House co-owner and council candidate Nigel Bowen said it was "not a perfect world", and it was good to see money being channelled into community projects which might not otherwise receive funding. 

He sat on the South Canterbury Football Committee which received $100,000 a year from the trust, which was put into some "really positive" things. 

The fifth by-election candidate, lecturer Anthony Brien, said he felt he did not know enough about the issue to make a comment but he thought it would make for an interesting council discussion. 

Problem Gambling Foundation chief executive Paula Snowden said the Hamilton City Council's decision not to accept gaming trust money showed "real leadership and integrity". 

"Councils have the authority to determine numbers of machines in their region and given the money these machines generate there is an inherent conflict of interest if councils benefit from grants derived from those same machines," Snowden said. 

Foundation media spokeswoman Andree Froude said it was difficult to know the extent of gambling problems in South Canterbury, as a a lot of people did not seek help. The machines were linked to increased levels of stress, relationship breakdown. family violence, losing homes and jobs, and suicide. 

 

 - The Timaru Herald

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