Gaming grants are a lifesaver for many community groups, but NZ gambling surveys have consistently shown that the source of those grants – pokie machines – cause the most gambling harm.
Local government gambling policies, which control the location and number of gaming venues and pokie machines must be reviewed by Councils every three years. Legislation requires them to produce a draft policy that will balance community benefit and gambling harm, and which is sent out for consultation. After hearing submissions, the new policy is set by council for the next three years.
Hastings District Council has just finished their deliberations after hearing submitters from the gaming industry, problem gambling organisations, and other affected groups and individuals.
HDC decided at the end to bring in a ‘sinking lid’ policy for reducing machines, but to retain the same number of machines and allow their relocation.
The Problem Gambling Foundation called their decision to introduce a sinking lid a “slow burn”, but local Mark Sowman, director of First Light Community Foundation, a gaming trust, congratulated the Hastings District Council for their “pragmatic” approach, which “pleased” him.
Napier City Council is in the first stages of this process, deciding what will be put in our draft policy, which will be finally agreed at the full Council meeting on 17 December, and then sent out for consultation on 18 January till 17 February, with a hearing and deliberations soon after.
The draft policy recently agreed on at NCC’s Futures Napier standing committee meeting is identical to the existing policy – keeping the machine cap at 320 (with 298 machines operating); allowing relocation of machines; keeping some restriction of permitted locations; and no sinking lid.
I tried to urge my colleagues to put in some new conditions, such as reducing the cap to its actual numbers, and including the sinking lid, which the Maori Committee had recommended. But only Councillor Api Tapine supported me, asking the council to “lead out with a statement” which included the sinking lid, that the community could refute or support. However, the rest of the councillors voted to send it out ‘as is’ and see what submitters say.
Not all councillors were at the table, however.
At the start of the meeting, three had declared a conflict of interest because (I assume) of their close connection with organisations receiving gaming grants – councillors Price, Taylor and Crown. Hastings District Council had struggled to get a quorum after seven of their councillors similarly declared a conflict.
Yet in the 2018-2019 year, the Napier City Council, with the permission of all councillors at the time, received $95,877 from gaming trusts. So don’t we all have a conflict of interest?
Next column: Pokies, problem gamblers and gaming trust grants.