Forget Napier … The Art Deco City.

According to Councillor Harry Lawson, Napier might better be called the “Las Vegas of the South Pacific!”

This was his observation as Napier Councillors marched up to the brink of taking action to reduce the number of pokies in the prim city, but then balked and retreated to study the issue some more.

Apparently much study is required when “only” two-thirds of submitters on the issue clearly wanted to reduce the number of machines in Napier in a modest attempt to curb problem gambling.

Some Councillors had a “why bother” attitude, believing that determined gamblers, faced with fewer pokies, would simply find another way to gamble. To me, this seems like not banning “P” because addicts will simply switch to another drug.

Others wrung their hands, pointing out that the current “sinking lid” policy had only reduced the number of machines in Napier from 436 in 2003 to 426 in 2009. Councillor Tania Wright observed: “What’s the point of simply endorsing a policy that so far has failed?” Everyone shrugged their shoulders, intellectually stymied. No heavy lifting in this bunch.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of pokies in Napier. In fact, Napier has more machines per population (one for every 130 people) than anywhere in the region … indeed, in New Zealand (the national average is one pokie for every 224 people).

Hence Harry Lawson’s comment.

It’s really bewildering why Councillors would struggle with this issue. What’s the case or constituency for facilitating gambling … in fact, a form of gambling that is especially addictive? Pokies are the “P” of gambling.

My guess is that Councillors have themselves become addicted … to the revenue that comes back to community via the gambling trusts. Worthy sports clubs and other community groups plead that they will “go under” without these funds.

So, instead of weighing the needs of these groups (most quite legitimate) and their contributions to social well-being, biting the bullet, and transparently budgeting ratepayer money to meet those needs and secure those benefits, Councillors prefer to fob the matter off and “pay” for them through the back door via gambling proceeds.

In the end, those least able to pay for programs that benefit the broader community effectively foot the bill. Even as they bankrupt themselves and ruin their families (and sometimes entire businesses … see here for a local example).

But hey, brave Councillors, keep those rates down!

Tom Belford

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3 Comments

  1. BayBuzz can be a refreshingly bold voice on social issues, though it has an unfortunate tendency to ascribe unworthy motives to those (usually local government politicians and council employees) with whom it disagrees.

    That aside, if BayBuzz is to do an effective job it needs to be logical: that Napier has more pokies than the national average does not necessarily mean that it has "more machines per population … than anywhere … in New Zealand". Why lessen the effect of a compelling argument by introducing basic statistical error?

    Tone down the rhetoric – the facts will do the job.

  2. A disappointing lack of leadership from the Council.

    In preparation for the review an extensive Social Impact Assessment was prepared by Michelle Hart. I'm surprised that anyone who read that document would have any position other than to oppose a change to the current sinking lid policy.

    It's very sad that sport and community groups have become so dependent on funding from gambling.

    Former Councillor Robin Gwynn's submission to the Committee in November is also well worth reading.

  3. Sir,

    Mr Moriarty questions BayBuzz figures regarding pokies. However, they are quite correct.

    Department of Internal Affairs figures show that just under 2% of the country’s losses on pokies are spent in Napier. In relation to the national average, that means that losses in Napier are about what one would expect from a city of 80,000 population, not one of 56,000.

    The Napier ratio of pokie machines to people is one machine to every 130 people. The nationwide ratio is one machine to every 224 people – a massive difference.

    At 1:130, Napier has the highest ratio of machines to population of any of the fifteen cities in the country. At the other end of the spectrum stands Waitakere City with 1:377.

    We also have a far higher number of machines in relation to our population than the other cities in our region:

    · Napier 1:130

    · Hastings (District) 1:190

    · Gisborne (District) 1:214

    · Palmerston North City 1:158

    · Masterton (District) 1:195.

    Robin Gwynn

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